Issue Date: January 9, 2012
ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials
Sponsored by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
Creating materials with novel and useful properties is only step one for materials scientists. For a material to find real-world applications, researchers also must develop a synthesis that produces large amounts of the material in a form that manufacturers can easily process into devices.
Richard B. Kaner, a professor of chemistry and of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, has reported several such methods to make materials including conducting polymers, carbon nanostructures, and superhard metals.
“Not only have all his scientific breakthroughs been highly cited,” says J. Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University, but also other researchers have built upon them.
Stoddart says Kaner’s methods to produce water-dispersible conducting polymers stand out as his best, because they have “opened up endless opportunities” for applications. Unlike traditional conductors such as indium tin oxide, the conducting polymer polyaniline can bend without losing its conductivity, which would make it ideal for producing flexible circuits or solar cells. But unlike normal polymers, polyaniline doesn’t generally melt or dissolve, which makes it difficult to process into devices because manufacturers can’t mold or cast it.
Kaner and his colleagues overcame this problem by synthesizing nanofibers of polyaniline that readily disperse in water. These dispersed fibers act like conducting polymer paint that the researchers can spray or coat onto surfaces to produce films. Kaner’s 2003 and 2004 papers describing the synthesis of polyaniline nanofibers together have been cited more than 1,000 times.
New forms of carbon are another synthetic target for Kaner. His lab developed a method to produce graphene chemically from graphite oxide dispersed in water. This chemical synthesis produces far greater amounts of the material than were possible with previous mechanical production methods.
In other work, Kaner has synthesized some of the hardest metals ever reported by introducing boron-metal covalent bonds into metals like osmium and rhenium. The hardest, rhenium diboride, can scratch diamond. Because these materials remain metallic, they’re easily machined into parts for cutting and polishing applications.
Kaner calls the materials award “a tribute to my students” and points out that several of his graduate students also have received accolades for their work, including the 2006 ACS National Starch & Chemical Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in Polymer Chemistry.
Kaner, 53, earned an A.B. in chemistry from Brown University in 1980 and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. In 1987, he joined the chemistry faculty at UCLA. He became a full professor of chemistry in 1993 and a professor of materials science and engineering in 2002.
Over his career, Kaner has published more than 250 scientific papers and produced 14 patents. He has received the David & Lucile Packard Fellowship in Science & Engineering as well as Alfred P. Sloan, John Simon Guggenheim, and J. William Fulbright fellowships.
Kaner will present the award address before the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
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