Volume 86 Issue 7 | p. 54 | Awards
Issue Date: February 18, 2008

Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of Michael L. Klein
Credit: Courtesy of Michael L. Klein

Sponsored by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

For Michael L. Klein, two words come up when discussing his academic career. One is "global." During a career that has spanned five decades, Klein has mentored scores of researchers and has helped build and sustain links between scientists around the world.

"Back in the 1950s, when I was in high school, the Soviet Union sent Sputnik into space. I think it was this event that convinced me to become a scientist and understand that science is a global activity," Klein says.

The second word is "explosions." Klein prefers not to elaborate on that one, except to say that they are among the reasons he became interested in chemistry.

Klein is the Hepburn Professor of Physical Science & Theoretical Chemistry and director of both the Center for Molecular Modeling and the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter at the University of Pennsylvania. His group applies principles from quantum mechanics and statistical thermodynamics to model molecular phenomena with computer simulations. Klein receives this award for contributions to the development of computational methodologies to probe the behavior of complex systems.

In particular, Klein says, "I think my group brings rigor to the field of molecular simulations." Currently, Klein's group is focused on quantum and classical computer simulation of condensed matter and biophysical systems at the atomic level. The work emphasizes the relationship between intra- and intermolecular interactions and physical properties. The goal of the research is to use existing methods on novel applications and to develop new simulation methodologies when needed.

It was early in Klein's career, during his Ph.D. studies, that he first learned that building global relationships would have an important impact on his research. "I was fortunate enough to be sent by my thesis adviser to international conferences where I met famous scientists—including Peter Debye, Max Born, and Paul P. Ewald—from all over the world," he says. "In fact, during a summer conference in Denmark in 1963, one of the lecturers referred to my first publication," which appeared in Physical Review in 1962.

"I ended up corresponding with this professor, who was from Germany, along with others from the U.S. and Italy," Klein continues. "I soon realized that international collaboration could be fun and rewarding and that it is often easier to collaborate with scientists at other universities than those at your own."

He says he now finds alumni from his research group all around the world. "Seeing these people succeed in science is most rewarding, especially because most of them do research on topics much more interesting than they did in my research group." Even more rewarding for Klein is that many of his past students have sent him their students as postdocs, who also go on to have successful careers in science, he adds.

Klein received a B.Sc. in chemistry from the University of Bristol, in England, in 1961, and went on to receive a Ph.D. from the same university in 1964. Before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1987, Klein was a principal researcher at the National Research Council Canada.

In addition to this award, and among other honors, Klein received the ACS Philadelphia Section Award in 1998, the Aneesur Rahman Prize for Computation Physics from the American Physical Society in 1999, and the European Physical Society Berni J. Alder Prize from the European Center of Atomic & Molecular Computations in 2004. He is the author of more than 550 scientific publications and editor of four books.

He will present the award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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