Issue Date: February 3, 2014
ACS Award For Distinguished Service In The Advancement Of Inorganic Chemistry
Sponsored by Strem Chemicals
If there’s such a thing as an ambassador for inorganic chemistry, T. Don Tilley is it. A chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Tilley advocates for the field through his teaching, his research, and his work with the broader chemistry community.
Tilley began college at the University of Texas, Austin, as a math major but was soon attracted by the practical nature of chemistry. “It was clear you could work with your hands and your mind,” he recalls.
He earned his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in Richard A. Andersen’s lab and later taught at UC San Diego for more than a decade. Now back at UC Berkeley as a professor, he continues to be hands-on, running what he calls a “highly synthetic” research group.
Tilley, 59, sees the opportunity to solve some of the planet’s challenges by tackling inorganic-chemical-based catalysis from multiple directions. His research group does this by starting with fundamental questions about bonding patterns and then using the answers to advance applied research.
In his lab these days, Tilley and his students are exploring new catalysts based on abundant first-row metals such as iron, nickel, and cobalt rather than the more exotic elements now common in catalysis. Such catalysts might be used to transform methane, benzene, and other “difficult substrates” into useful materials, he says.
Through a project with the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Tilley’s group is also exploring technologies and devices that, in essence, convert solar energy into chemical fuels. Catalysts that harness the sun to make methanol from carbon dioxide or hydrogen from water could provide huge benefits for society, he notes.
Tilley also researches materials for the electronics industry. In 2008, he cofounded Precursor Energetics, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm developing organic-inorganic precursor materials that can be applied as ink to surfaces. They are then converted under mild conditions to purely inorganic thin films for applications such as batteries, solar panels, and displays.
Tilley’s peers speak highly of both his chemistry prowess and his service to the inorganic community. Arnold L. Rheingold, a chemistry professor at UC San Diego, points to Tilley’s creation of the Young Investigator Symposium Awards while he was chair of ACS’s Division of Inorganic Chemistry in 2003. Rheingold also lauds Tilley’s work with high school students in his UC Berkeley laboratory and his preparation of science lessons for elementary school classrooms.
Ever the ambassador, Tilley sees opportunities to spread his enthusiasm for inorganic chemistry at all educational levels. One way that university professors can help, he notes, is to promote the teaching of inorganic chemistry early in the curriculum so students have a chance to consider it as an area of specialization before they lock into another track.
For Tilley, service to inorganic chemistry comes with the territory. “I think service is very important,” he says. “All of us who are lucky enough to be able to do research have an obligation to give back to the community.”
Tilley will present his award address before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
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