Issue Date: January 9, 2012
ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry
Sponsored by Aldrich Chemical
Some kids play with blocks, some kids play with model cars. Clifford P. Kubiak had, essentially, a personal laboratory.
When his fourth-grade teacher heard that Kubiak had what may have been the largest chemistry set in the state of Connecticut in his basement, she asked him to help perform chemistry demonstrations for her classes. “I found out at a young age that I liked chemistry,” Kubiak, Distinguished Professor and Harold C. Urey Chair in Chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, tells C&EN.
His interest grew through his education, including his undergraduate years at Brown University, where he fell in love with inorganic chemistry. “I liked all the things about inorganic chemistry—the colors, the coordination geometries, the kinetics of electron-transfer reactions,” Kubiak says. After graduating in 1975, Kubiak pursued his doctorate under Richard Eisenberg at the University of Rochester. There Kubiak immersed himself in catalysis, earning his Ph.D. in 1980. He went on to complete postdoctoral studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked under Mark Wrighton. Kubiak then served as a professor at Purdue University for 16 years before moving to UCSD in 1998.
Over the course of his distinguished career, his work in mixed-valence systems and carbon dioxide fixation, as well as his contributions to nanoscience, have been highly influential in the field of inorganic chemistry.
One example is Kubiak’s work with electron-transfer kinetics in mixed-valence systems, in which at least two atoms, typically transition metals, exist in multiple oxidation states. He helped develop techniques to study ultrafast electron transfers—which occur at picosecond intervals in these systems—by using IR instead of slower NMR, which operates on the millisecond timescale. With the new techniques, Kubiak’s team determined the rate constants of electron exchange. The data helped researchers distinguish between compounds with completely delocalized electrons and those with somewhat localized electrons.
Kubiak has also worked extensively on the catalytic conversion of CO2, exploring various photochemical, electrochemical, and chemical methods to produce fuels and other complex organic molecules from the greenhouse gas.
In the 1990s, Kubiak was one of the first researchers to produce groundbreaking research in nanoscience when the field began to emerge. His work produced great strides in the understanding of gold nanoclusters and the conduction of individual molecules. Among his many achievements, Kubiak was the chemist on the first team to accurately measure the resistance of an individual organic molecule.
Whether among colleagues or among disciplines, Kubiak holds collaboration in high regard. After a conference in Taipei, Kubiak began a long-term collaboration with chemist Tasuku Ito, which led to many breakthroughs in his and Ito’s research. In 1997, Kubiak and Ito published a paper in Science reporting their findings on the picosecond measurements of the mixed-valence systems, and the team continued to answer critical questions in inorganic chemistry that had been left standing for decades.
Kubiak, who is 58, lives in Del Mar, Calif., with his wife. He enjoys the occasional game of squash.
Kubiak will present the award address before the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
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