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ACS Award In Industrial Chemistry

by Melody M. Bomgardner
January 28, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 4

Credit: Courtesy of Anne M. Gaffney
Mug of Anne M. Gaffney, R&D director, Invista.
Credit: Courtesy of Anne M. Gaffney

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Business Development & Management and the ACS Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry

Like many young women and men of her generation, Anne M. Gaffney, 58, was turned on to science by the space race. Her father was a materials science engineer who worked on aerospace projects for NASA. He was a team leader who designed astronaut suits, life-support systems, and fuel cells.

In high school, it was math that really stoked her interest, and Gaffney enrolled at Mount Holyoke College with plans to become a mathematician. The college offered a full four-year scholarship, a liberal arts environment, and a convenient location in her hometown of South Hadley, Mass. Mount Holyoke was founded 175 years ago as a women’s college and is famous for its chemistry department. Nevertheless, Gaffney recalls, “I didn’t think I’d take much chemistry—in high school I didn’t enjoy the way it was taught.” But the college had distribution requirements, and she found herself in a freshman introductory chemistry class taught by Anna J. Harrison, an outstanding instructor and the first female president of ACS.

More chemistry classes followed, and after a sophomore summer of chemistry research, Gaffney added chemistry to her math major and changed her career path. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry from the University of Delaware in 1981.

In her subsequent three-decade career, Gaffney has focused on research and development of new catalysts and chemical processes leading to commercialization. She describes the field as multidisciplinary and collaborative, with “great challenges to address.” At her first employer, Arco Chemical, she worked on a wide range of projects including catalytic cracking, selective oxidation, isomerization, oligomerization, and hydrogenation. She spent 17 years in research and led research teams before moving to DuPont in 1998, where she led programs in gas-to-liquid technologies.

At Rohm and Haas, where Gaffney worked from 2000 to 2005 as a senior fellow, she led projects for developing new routes to acrylic acid that included high-throughput methods for catalyst evaluation. In 2005, she moved to contract research firm Lummus Technology as vice president of technology development. There she directed a 55-employee R&D center focused on modeling, refining, petrochemicals, ethylene and higher olefins, metathesis, reactor and heater design, metallocene catalysis, catalytic distillation, and membrane technology.

“Anne’s innovative research in the area of selective oxidation of hydrocarbons has been groundbreaking over the past 32 years,” says Chunshan Song, a collaborator and a professor of fuel science and chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University. “Her discoveries of new catalysts and catalytic processes have been instrumental in the commercialization of new technologies.” Indeed, Gaffney is a prolific inventor with more than 200 patents and patent applications. The list includes catalysts based on her early discovery of promoted lanthanide oxides for the oxidative coupling of methane to ethylene and a direct propylene oxide catalyst for the selective oxidation of propylene with molecular oxygen.

Since joining Invista, a synthetic fiber producer, in 2011, Gaffney has moved into specialty materials. She was hired as the R&D director and is currently leading a technology program for its C12 business.

Gaffney will present the award address before the ACS Divisions of Business Development & Management and of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.


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