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ACS Award For Encouraging Disadvantaged Students Into Careers In The Chemical Sciences

Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation

by Rachel Sheremeta Pepling
February 8, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 6

Lichter
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Credit: Robert Lichter
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Credit: Robert Lichter

In Robert L. Lichter’s office hangs a framed reprint of the first independent paper by one of his former students. An inscription reads, “To Dr. Lichter: Thank you for opening the doors to a beautiful career.” It is clear that Lichter, 68, is touched as he reads the note. To him, the most important outcome of the research experience is not the research itself, but what happens to the student. To him, creating opportunities for everyone is what is most important for the good of both the chemical enterprise and society as a whole.

“Bob’s stature in the scientific community is more than the sum of his publications. He has made significant contributions to building a more diverse scientific talent pool,” says Willie Pearson Jr., a sociology professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. Richard N. Zare, chemistry department chair at Stanford University, describes Lichter as “a ceaseless advocate for advancing women and underrepresented minorities. But his approach is all-inclusive, an approach that really wins others over.”

Lichter feels privileged to be receiving this award. “But I see it more as a reflection of being involved in enabling others to really do important things,” he says. This applies “whether it’s the students themselves who go on in the chemical sciences or for other professionals to help open the pathways,” he adds.

While he was executive director of the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation from 1989 to 2002, Lichter served as an early adviser to the ACS Scholars program, contributing to its success by securing the first private foundation support and by insisting on a strong mentoring component.

Lichter received an A.B. in chemistry from Harvard College in 1962. After receiving a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1967, he spent a year as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at the Braunschweig University of Technology, in Germany. He was then a research fellow at California Institute of Technology from 1968 to 1970.

Lichter was part of the chemistry department at the City University of New York, Hunter College, until 1983, when he became regional director of grants at Research Corporation. As vice provost for research and graduate studies at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, from 1986 to 1989, he established the Turner Fellows Program for underrepresented graduate students. Lichter is now principal of Merrimack Consultants, where he provides consulting services to educational, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations such as the National Science Foundation and ACS.

One of the few men honored as a fellow of the Association for Women in Science, Lichter is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former secretary and chair of the chemistry section. Lichter is actively involved in ACS and is one of its inaugural fellows. He has also been involved with the NSF Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science & Engineering, the Council on Undergraduate Research, and numerous national panels and advisory boards.

Lichter will present the award address at a presidential event at the fall ACS national meeting in Boston.

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