ACS Award In Polymer Chemistry | January 19, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 3 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 3 | p. 72 | Awards
Issue Date: January 19, 2009

ACS Award In Polymer Chemistry

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of Takuzo Aida
Credit: Courtesy of Takuzo Aida

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Chemical Co.

As a child, Takuzo Aida's love for dinosaurs and beetles left him with a difficult career decision: Should he become a paleontologist or a bug hunter? Ultimately, Aida says, he chose the path of least resistance—as a high school student in the 1970s, he settled on chemistry. "Chemistry at that time was not at all popular due to the issue of environmental pollution," he explains. "It was much less competitive in the entrance examination."

Even with numerous awards and a distinguished career at the University of Tokyo, one of Japan's top schools, Aida, 52, still describes himself as lazy. His curriculum vita tells a different story, though. With 210 research papers and 66 patents, his scientific output has been anything but lackadaisical.

"Takuzo Aida is among the most imaginative and productive polymer chemists in the world," says California Institute of Technology chemistry professor David A. Tirrell. "His energy and creativity have helped to shape polymer chemistry for more than two decades." This profound influence has garnered Aida this year's award "for his seminal and creative achievements demonstrating novel syntheses and functions of linear, dendritic, and supramolecular polymers."

Among Aida's many molecular inventions are light-harvesting dendrimers, including the first dendritic macromolecule to covalently encapsulate a dye unit—a dendrimer with a porphyrin at its focal point. Other molecules Aida created in this class have shown promise in photodynamic cancer therapy and have helped chemists glean understanding of biological energy transduction events.

Of his many discoveries, Aida says he is probably proudest of the one-pot procedure his group developed for extrusion polymerization of ethylene using catalysts supported with mesoporous silica. The process leads to uniform nanofibers of ultra-high-molecular-weight linear polyethylene and is similar to the way spiders spin silk.

"Honestly, we were not at all successful in the first two years," Aida confesses of the project's rocky beginning. "This experience taught me a lot, in particular, the importance of conceptual flexibility and patience, as well as creativity." When his student finally came to his office to show him the spongy white polyethylene, Aida says he jumped up and down on his chair.

E. W. (Bert) Meijer, a chemistry professor at Eindhoven University of Technology, in the Netherlands, notes that Aida possesses "unparalleled originality in the creation of molecular machines and molecular devices." Aida managed to coax amphiphilic hexabenzocoronenes to assemble into graphite nanotubes, which were the first example of conductive self-assembled nanotubes. He also recently built a molecular scissors that traps guest molecules and changes their conformations.

"Aida has extended the reach of polymer chemistry into the area of supramolecular self-assembly with brilliant contributions," says Samuel I. Stupp, a materials science and chemistry professor at Northwestern University. "Given Aida's creativity, I expect his laboratory in Tokyo to generate in years to come many more transformative concepts in this largely unexplored area of polymer chemistry."

Aida credits his ability to cross disciplinary boundaries to his background in physical chemistry. "One thing I learned from my advisers is that we should have a firm scientific basis in any field," he says. " 'Home base' always welcomes you back when you have difficult problems."

As a graduate student, Aida spent his free time mountain climbing, but these days his main hobby is computer graphics. He is usually the one who prepares the colorful molecular images that are characteristic of work from his lab. "I love the molecules we synthesize and want them to look very attractive," he says.

Aida will present the award address before the Division of Polymer Chemistry.

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