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Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

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

Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN
Credit: Mitch Jacoby/C&EN

Sponsored by the Gabor A. & Judith K. Somorjai Endowment Fund

It's common for good scientists to be praised by their colleagues for noteworthy work, but it's unusual for that praise to consistently be framed with superlatives and absolutes. However, in the case of Avelino Corma, a professor and director of the Institute of Chemical Technology at Polytechnic University of Valencia, in Spain, experts in catalysis laud their colleague in the strongest terms. They regard him as a chemist's chemist.

Not one to mince words, Enrique Iglesia, professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, says Corma "is the most prolific and versatile contributor to the science and technology of heterogeneous catalysis in the world today."

Others express similar views. For example, Bruce C. Gates, a chemical engineering professor at UC Davis, says Corma's contributions to fundamental catalysis science and to industrially significant catalytic technology "are so broad and so deep that one could teach an excellent course in catalytic science and technology by referring only to Corma's work."

One area of research associated around the world with Corma's name is zeolites. Corma's group has designed, synthesized, and found important applications for dozens of these microporous crystalline catalytic solids. For example, a number of his group's novel zeolites that are related to the mineral mordenite are commonly used industrially for paraffin isomerization due to their uncommonly high stability, chemical selectivity, and resistance to sulfur poisoning. Corma and coworkers have prepared many other zeolite-type materials, including some that feature unusually large pores, interconnecting channels, and an exceptional degree of internal openness. Those materials are useful for dealkylation of bulky aromatic compounds, cracking of petroleum oils, and other types of refining applications.

Other examples of the Corma group's inventiveness include newly developed supported gold catalysts that selectively reduce aromatic nitro groups and other types of catalysts used to prepare fine chemicals and chiral compounds. In addition, Corma and coworkers have designed instrumentation that has been commercialized, including a system for high-throughput synthesis of zeolites and other catalytic materials.

Corma, 56, was born into a farming family in eastern Spain. He says he was destined to remain a farmer with minimal schooling, but his parents' desire for their son to obtain an education changed his life forever. Fascinated by science in high school, Corma chose to study chemistry at the University of Valencia and completed an undergraduate degree there in 1973. In 1976, he completed Ph.D. studies in catalysis at the Spanish National Research Council, in Madrid, and then conducted postdoctoral research at Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario. After serving in a number of other academic positions, Corma founded the institute in Valencia for which he now serves as director.

Corma has published more than 600 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is an author of some 90 international patents, more than 20 of which have been licensed for commercial development. He has served as director for more than 25 Ph.D. students and is ranked among the 50 most cited chemists in the past decade.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Chemical Education.


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