Issue Date: January 28, 2008
F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry
Sponsored by the F. Albert Cotton Endowment Fund
To say that Iowa State University (ISU) professor John D. Corbett influenced inorganic solid-state chemistry would be a gross understatement. According to colleagues and fellow chemists, Corbett didn't simply influence the field, he reinvented it.
"He has had an enormous impact in the way we all think about rare-earth halides, metal-metal bonding of early-transition metals, Zintl-phase chemistry, and solid-state chemistry in general," says Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, professor of chemistry at Northwestern University.
Gordon J. Miller, a fellow ISU chemistry professor, echoes Kanatzidis. "Over the years, his research has greatly impacted and broadened our understanding of chemical bonding in complex inorganic solids," Miller says. "Corbett's scientific career shows nine major areas of accomplishment that originated with imaginative synthetic principles or procedures and often revealed unprecedented or inconceivable species."
These accomplishments include recognizing that significant solubilities of certain metals in their molten halides were evidence for the existence of metals in lower oxidation states; establishing firm evidence for Zintl polyanions via solutions for alkali-metal alloys in molten halides; and discovering that many compounds involving alkai, alkaline-earth, and rare-earth metals are uniquely stabilized by hydrogen or other atomic impurities.
To date, Corbett has published 438 professional papers. He has taken home two other inorganic chemistry awards from ACS: the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry in 1986 and the ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry in 2000.
In addition to all of this, Corbett is an ISU Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences, professor of chemistry, and former chair of the chemistry department. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, served as division chief and program director in the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory at ISU, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Corbett is the recipient of many awards outside of ACS, including the Humboldt Foundation's Senior Scientist Award.
Although his colleagues attribute his accomplishments to ingenious creativity, Corbett himself credits them to serendipity.
"Back when I first got started, you could count on one hand those working in inorganic solid-state chemistry in the U.S., and I was there when it grew up around me. I was in the right place, at the right time," he says. "What leads you to do the right experiment for the wrong reason?" he asks. "It's not that you had the wrong reason, it's that you did the experiment."
When Corbett is not in the lab, he can be found cutting down trees on his 1.5 acres of property for his home's multiple fireplaces, tending to his vegetable or flower gardens, or going on a fishing trip with his children.
The award address will be presented before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
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