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Award for Volunteer Service to the American Chemical Society

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Linda Wang
January 21, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 3

Credit: Courtesy of Netzel
Credit: Courtesy of Netzel

Sponsored by ACS

After talking with Thomas L. Netzel, you can sense that he is a modest man. Netzel would much rather be giving an award than receiving one.

Nevertheless, colleagues of this Georgia State University professor of biophysical chemistry say they can't think of anyone more deserving of this award. Netzel is being recognized for his passionate involvement with the ACS Georgia Section.

"If he decides to do something, he just puts his all into it," says Donald G. Hicks, a councilor for the ACS Georgia Section and a retired Georgia State University professor. He says Netzel instilled new life into "a section that had drifted somewhat for a few years." Before Netzel became involved, "the section had almost never gotten any kind of national recognition," he adds.

Netzel served in the chair succession of the Georgia Section between 1997 and 1999. During his tenure, he founded the section's Committee on Legislative & Government Affairs and served as chair of the committee for six years. His work led the section to receive a 2002 ChemLuminary Award. In 2003, Netzel also served as chair of a Southeastern Regional Meeting that was record-setting in terms of number of registered attendees and poster and paper abstracts submitted.

Netzel says he could not have accomplished anything without the help of his colleagues and the support of ACS staff. "There were many people who worked equally hard who could have been picked for this award," he says. "I am honored to represent all the other hard-working volunteers."

Netzel, 61, received a B.Sc. in chemistry in 1968 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Yale University in 1973. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgia State University, he worked for Amoco, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Bell Laboratories.

His research has focused on exciton interactions in benzene crystals, picosecond laser kinetics of early electron transfers in bacterial reaction center proteins, and photoinduced electron transfer in chemically modified DNA nucleosides and duplexes.

Netzel is also known for his infectious and upbeat personality. "I don't think I ever saw him when he didn't have a smile on his face," says Hicks, who recalls once overhearing a regional meeting session organizer bemoaning to Netzel about the low attendance at the event. Instead of adding to the organizer's misery, Netzel said: "You planned a great program! You did the best you could! Don't feel bad, the audience is just a tough sell."

Netzel says there are real benefits to being a volunteer and a mentor. "We don't get money for doing this, but we do get the intangible benefits of professional growth and satisfaction," he says.

Georgia State University plans to set up a scholarship program for undergraduate students to honor Netzel's contributions to chemistry. These "Netzel Scholars" will follow Netzel's outstanding commitment to both scholarly pursuits and service to the community.

Last year, Netzel was diagnosed with a rare form of prostate cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. He asked C&EN to publish an excerpt of his award address:

"You can only grow as an effective leader if you practice. ACS allows its members to assist in, develop, manage, and initiate science-related, science-education-related, and science-policy-related projects. In short, you practice your leadership skills, try out your own personal management philosophies, and presumably become a better and more effective leader. Note that your management style may be much superior to mine. Get involved in ACS and see."

The award address will be presented at the ChemLuminary Awards program during the ACS meeting in Philadelphia in August.


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