Issue Date: February 23, 2009
ACS Award In Inorganic Chemistry
Sponsored by Aldrich Chemical Co. Inc.
There is always that one phone message that doesn’t need an immediate return. Or so we think. In Daniel G. Nocera’s case, he thought a message from ACS Past-President Bruce Bursten was regarding a symposium in which Nocera had already agreed to participate. It was a week or so before Nocera found out that he had been honored with this ACS award.
Nocera, 51, has a lot on his mind, though. The Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is consumed with finding a solution to the world’s growing energy demands, and he’s focusing on proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) and photocatalytic reactions to do so.
“The energy picture is a complicated one. There were some colors missing on the palette,” Nocera says. He developed PCET and multielectron photoreactions as the missing colors in order to continue painting the energy picture. According to a colleague, “All examples of discrete multielectron transfer reactions driven by transition-metal complexes in electronic excited states have come from Nocera’s research group.” With his expanded palette, Nocera has designed oxygen- and hydrogen-producing catalysts.
Most recently, Nocera developed a cobalt phosphate catalyst that forms on the surface of an indium tin oxide electrode. The catalyst is made from inexpensive cobalt salts and potassium phosphate buffer at neutral pH. Not only can the catalyst easily split water at room temperature, but it is also self-healing.
Nocera’s contributions extend beyond using inorganic catalysts to tap the sun’s energy. His group has developed new turn-on signal transduction mechanisms for chemosensors, a microfluidic optical chemosensor, and nanocrystal sensors for the metabolic profiling of tumors. Nocera also invented the Molecular Tagging Velocimetry technique to measure the vorticity of highly turbulent, three-dimensional flows, thus solving a long-standing engineering problem.
After receiving a B.S. in chemistry from Rutgers University in 1979, Nocera did his graduate work at California Institute of Technology, where he studied electron transfer reactions of biological and inorganic systems with Harry B. Gray. Nocera completed a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1984 and became an assistant professor at Michigan State University. In 1997, he joined the faculty at MIT as a professor of chemistry.
Nocera has published more than 225 papers and served on the scientific advisory boards for Polaroid Corp., Instant Digital Printing, the BioDesign Institute at Arizona State University, and Eni. He has participated in the editorial boards of several journals and was the inaugural editor of Inorganic Chemistry Communications, as well as the inaugural chair of the editorial board for ChemSusChem.
In addition to working with universities to set up energy initiatives, Nocera has also invested his resources into helping students. He has received several teaching awards, including MIT’s School of Science Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2005). Nocera also instituted the third student affiliate chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers.
Among the many awards Nocera has accumulated are the Eni-Italgas Prize for Energy & the Environment (2005), the I-APS Award in Photochemistry (2006), and the first Burghausen Chemistry Award for his commitment to solving energy-related problems (2007).
Nocera will present the award address before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
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