Chemical Breakthroughs Honored | January 12, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 2 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 2 | pp. 48-49 | Awards
Issue Date: January 12, 2009

Chemical Breakthroughs Honored

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
MIT Chemistry department Chair Timothy Swager (from left), Roberts, Seeman, and Greene gather around the plaque that will hang at MIT.
Credit: Amanda Yarnell/C&EN
MIT Chemistry department Chair Timothy Swager (from left), Roberts, Seeman, and Greene gather around the plaque that will hang at MIT.
Credit: Amanda Yarnell/C&EN

At a ceremony at Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month, John D. Roberts’ pioneering discovery that certain aromatic aminations go through a benzyne intermediate was honored with a Citation for Chemical Breakthrough award.

Roberts’ resulting paper with Howard E. Simmons Jr., L. A. Carlsmith, and C. Wheaton Vaughan (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1953, 75, 3290) is among the six books and publications that won awards for 2007. Award presentations will be made through early 2009. The winners of the 2008 awards have also been announced and will be presented through 2009.

The Citation for Chemical Breakthrough awards are sponsored by the Division of the History of Chemistry (HIST) and recognize publications, books, and patents in the chemical sciences whose advances are revolutionary in concept, broad in scope, and long-term in impact.

Now Institute Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at California Institute of Technology, Roberts, 90, was honored on Dec. 10, 2008, at a symposium at MIT. “Roberts’ benzyne experiment demonstrated that it was possible to have multiple bonds to carbon in an unusual environment,” said Frederick D. Greene, a former colleague of Roberts’ at MIT and past editor of the Journal of Organic Chemistry. “It was totally unexpected and opened people’s eyes to many other possibilities.”

The other 2007 award winners include Alfred Werner’s classic work on the development of coordination chemistry, summarized in his 1905 book “Neuere Anschauungen auf dem Gebiete der Anorganischen Chemie” (Newer Ideas in the Area of Inorganic Chemistry); Harold C. Urey, Ferdinand G. Brickwedde, and George M. Murphy’s paper on the purification of deuterium (Phys. Rev. 1932, 39, 164); Derek H. R. Barton’s paper on conformational analysis (Experientia 1950, 6, 316); James Watson and Francis Crick’s classic paper describing the double-helix structure of DNA (Nature 1953, 171, 737); and Paul C. Lauterbur’s seminal paper on imaging by NMR (Nature 1973, 242, 190).

The winners of the 2008 awards are Herbert C. Brown and B. C. Subba Rao’s paper on the invention and utilization of hydroboration (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1956, 78, 5694); Tsutomu Katsuki and K. Barry Sharpless’ paper on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1980, 102, 5974); Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer’s 1982 patent on the scanning tunneling microscope (U.S. Patent 4,343,993); Roger Adams’ first volume of “Organic Reactions” in 1942; John A. Osborn, Fred H. Jardine, J. F. Young, and Geoffrey Wilkinson’s paper on the development of homogenous catalysis (J. Chem. Soc. A 1966, 1711); and Charles M. Hall’s 1889 patent on a commercial process for producing aluminum by electrolysis (U.S. Patent 400,766).

“Today’s research is firmly based on the accomplishments of the past,” says Jeffrey I. Seeman, founder of the awards program and past HIST chair. “To celebrate the past is essentially celebrating the present and the future.”

Nominations are being sought for the 2009 awards. They must include a full literature citation and a supporting statement of up to 200 words. The deadline for nominations is April 15. More information is available at Click the heading “Divisional Awards.” E-mail nominations to


Linda Wang and Amanda Yarnell compiled this section. Announcements of awards may be sent to

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