George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education | January 28, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 4 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 4 | pp. 86-87 | Awards
Issue Date: January 28, 2008

George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Stanford University
Credit: Zare
Stanford University
Credit: Zare

Sponsored by Rohm and Haas

He has chaired the chemistry department of Stanford University since 2005, has written several textbooks, and has earned recognition for his seminal research in laser chemistry. But Richard N. Zare's current and former students describe him mostly as an immensely curious scientist who always has time for them.

Hongkai Wu, now an assistant professor of chemistry at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, was a postdoc in Zare's lab from 2002 to 2005. The lab had about 40 students and postdocs then. "His lab is very dynamic, vibrant, and multidisciplinary," Wu recalls.

Wu conducted research in the area of microfluidics, but other members were interested in subjects as varied as mass spectrometry, molecular dynamics, and space chemistry. He recalls that one group, in collaboration with NASA, was analyzing the chemical contents of rock samples from outer space.

Zare, Wu says, always has time for those toiling in his lab. "He is always there to give you advice and encouragement if you have difficulties," Wu says. To his amazement, he discovered that Zare helped foreign students who were not native English speakers write their research papers by sitting with them at the computer for three to four hours at a time. "I learned a lot from him," Wu says.

Michael P. Doyle, chemistry professor and department chair at the University of Maryland who was the 2002 recipient of the Pimentel Award, says the wide range of projects Zare is involved in brings him come close to the description of "renaissance chemical scientist." He notes that Zare is a significant physical chemist who has also contributed in notable ways to the field of analytical chemistry.

Since becoming a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor last year, Zare has been using his $1 million grant to establish a multidisciplinary biological chemistry major program at Stanford involving the creation of two new biological chemistry courses. This endeavor led him to hire a postdoc and an instructor. As part of the course load, students enrolled in the new laboratory course in biological chemistry purify different parts of mushrooms to examine the concentration and activity of the enzyme tyrosinase.

Robert L. Lichter, principal of Merrimack Consultants in Great Barrington, Mass., and a longtime colleague of Zare's who nominated him for this award, was stunned to receive 100 pages of text from more than 70 people when he earlier nominated Zare for another prize. Lichter said the letters represented "an outpouring of respect and affection for an individual teacher that I have never seen before."

Zare says there are a great number of projects that he still wants to work on. For instance, he wants to "understand the chemical basis of how cells evolve under stress." He wants to "understand at a fundamental level how chemical transformations occur," and he also wants to "develop medical instruments and devices that can probe ultrasmall volumes to determine their chemical content."

Zare, 68, has been the recipient of numerous awards. ACS alone has given him eight regional awards and five national awards, including the 2001 Charles Lathrop Parsons Award for outstanding public service. Zare regards becoming a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences one of the highest professional honors he received. He is a special adviser to the president of Hunan University, which, he says, has one of the strongest bioanalytical chemistry programs in China.

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

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