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ACS Award For Encouraging Women Into Careers In The Chemical Sciences

by Susan J. Ainsworth
January 23, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 4

Credit: Courtesy of Yves Chabal
Yves Chabal, Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics and professor and head of the materials science and engineering department at University of Texas, Dallas
Credit: Courtesy of Yves Chabal

Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation

In some respects, Yves J. Chabal, Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics and professor and head of the materials science and engineering department at the University of Texas, Dallas, might seem an unlikely recipient for the ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.

Most notably, “he is trained as a physicist, not as a chemist; has spent most of his career outside academics, and therefore has mentored relatively few students; and is a man,” unlike the past recipients of the award, says Kate Queeney, associate professor of chemistry at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., and a former Chabal mentee. Nevertheless, Chabal, 59, “has demonstrated unparalleled success both at mentoring women generally and at helping women to be placed in academic positions more specifically,” Queeney says.

Throughout his career—which includes 22 years as a surface physics researcher at Bell Laboratories and five years as a professor of chemistry, chemical biology, and biomedical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Surface Modification at Rutgers University—Chabal has worked to achieve gender equality among the Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows in his research group, Queeney says. The same holds true now in his role at UT Dallas, which he joined in 2008. In addition, he has been dedicated to mentoring those in his group, consistently helping them meet their goals, “regardless of whether their goals align with his own,” she says.

“From the time I was a postdoc in Yves’s group at Bell Labs in the early 1990s, he has been a tireless proponent of my academic aspirations,” says Melissa A. Hines, a professor and director of the Cornell Center for Materials Research at Cornell University. Initially, “he made it a priority to give me the exposure necessary to land a position in a top-ranked university,” she says. Chabal arranged for her to give multiple presentations at conferences and universities, for example.

In 1993, when Hines was searching for a position amid a poor academic job market, Chabal wrote letters of recommendation to the 18 institutions to which she applied. In addition, he “worked the phones to help me get nine interviews and five offers,” she says, before she settled on Cornell, where Chabal earned a Ph.D. in physics in 1980. As Hines began her career, Chabal continued to work on her behalf, helping her gain exposure through lectures and media outlets, she says.

“One of the most successful surface chemists of his generation,” Chabal has provided the same support to many other chemists, Hines says. “My experience has been by no means unique.”

Throughout his career, Chabal says, he has been motivated to develop and nurture the best talent, irrespective of gender. “This has led me to have more women than men in my research group; indeed, women tend to be higher achievers because they have had to perform at a higher level to obtain the same recognition in scientific fields,” he adds.

Despite these efforts, Chabal says, he feels “very humbled” by receiving this ACS award, which he sees as a “recognition that men can and must provide the same support and opportunities to women as they do to male scientists.”

Chabal will present the award address before the ACS Women Chemists Committee.


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