James Flack Norris Award In Physical Organic Chemistry | January 3, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 1 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 1 | pp. 28-29 | Awards
Issue Date: January 3, 2011

James Flack Norris Award In Physical Organic Chemistry

Sponsored by the ACS Northeastern Section
Department: ACS News
Credit: Martin Saunders/Yale
Credit: Martin Saunders/Yale

Striving for theories, ideas, and most of all explanations is the motivating force that has driven Weston T. Borden for his entire career, says Barry K. Carpenter, a professor and director of the Physical Organic Chemistry Centre at Cardiff University, in Wales.

“Wes simply wants a better understanding of how nature works,” Carpenter remarks. “It has been very much to the benefit of the chemistry community that he has shared that understanding with us as it has unfolded.”

Borden’s research has involved experiments directed toward the synthesis and study of theoretically interesting molecules as well as qualitative and quantitative theory. In his theoretical research, he uses electronic structure calculations to understand and predict the reactivity of organic and organometallic compounds. Borden has conducted research in many different areas of physical organic chemistry, but he is probably best known for his work on diradicals.

The Norris Award, established in 1963 to encourage and reward outstanding contributions to physical organic chemistry, “is to me a very special award,” says Borden, the Robert A. Welch Chair of Chemistry at the University of North Texas. “I feel very honored to have my name added to the list of previous winners, which contains the names of the world’s most respected physical organic chemists of the past 45 years.”

Throughout his career, Borden has collaborated with many other theoreticians and experimentalists. However, Borden states, “my collaboration with my coworker, Dr. David Hrovat, has contributed the most to the success of my research program over the past quarter century.” Although Borden’s research group no longer conducts experiments, he still collaborates with other experimental groups in order to test predictions he derives from the results of calculations made by his North Texas students.

“My research is curiosity-driven,” he explains. “Trying to answer the question ‘Why?’ motivates most of my group’s calculations. When we think we have arrived at the answer to a question, we try to make a prediction based on that answer, and then we try to test the prediction experimentally.”

For example, first on the basis of qualitative molecular orbital theory and then on the results of ab initio calculations, Borden predicted that 1,1-difluorocyclopropanes would undergo highly stereospecific, disrotatory ring opening and that the D8h transition structure for bond shifting in cyclooctatetraene would be found to violate Hund’s rule. After Borden published those predictions, he collaborated with William R. Dolbier of the University of Florida to confirm the former and with W. Carl Lineberger of the University of Colorado to confirm the latter prediction experimentally.

Borden, 67, received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, where he served for five years as an assistant professor before moving to the University of Washington. After 31 years at UW, Borden accepted a position in 2004 as the first Welch Chair of Chemistry at North Texas, where he is now a Distinguished University Research Professor.

Borden has been the recipient of fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial, and Alexander von Humboldt foundations and from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Among his honors, he has received an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from ACS and has been named a fellow of ACS and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Borden will deliver the award address before the Division of Organic Chemistry.

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