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ACS Award In Polymer Chemistry

by Marc S. Reisch
February 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 5

Credit: JIM LYLE
Karen L. Wooley, W. T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M University
Credit: JIM LYLE

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Chemical

As a chemist, Karen L. Wooley has always been interested in producing never-before-made materials. But more important, she has wanted to make materials that benefit society. Working with polymeric materials, she has done just that.

At Texas A&M University, Wooley heads a 30-member research group focusing on polymer-coated nanoparticles. Projects under way include developing reusable magnetic nanoparticles to clean up oil spills, antibiofouling coatings for marine applications, and nanoparticles to deliver drugs.

Her work on such functional materials makes Wooley the first woman to receive this award since its inception in 1964.

Early on, Wooley recognized the power that could be realized through the iterative application of covalent and noncovalent chemistries to build up complex nanomaterials. Her approach to polymer chemistry has helped create an interdisciplinary field at the interface of organic chemistry, polymer science, chemical biology, and materials chemistry.

“I regard her as one of the most original scientists in the fields of polymers and biomaterials chemistry,” says one of Wooley’s colleagues. The colleague notes that Wooley and her group design and synthesize a variety of new molecular structures that are without peer. As a result, publications from Wooley’s group are extremely influential.

Wooley’s contributions to polymer chemistry started with dendritic macromolecules during her Ph.D. research, the colleague says. And through the years, novel research has continued to emerge from her research group.

“There is no question that professor Wooley’s pioneering accomplishments have changed the way that the scientific community thinks about polymer chemistry,” says another peer. “She is widely recognized as a star in the arena.” Wooley’s work in elegantly exploiting synthetic chemistry to create novel polymeric building blocks has captured researchers’ attention in diverse fields including physics and molecular biology, the peer adds.

Wooley, 47, received a B.S. in chemistry from Oregon State University in 1988 and a Ph.D. in polymer and organic chemistry from Cornell University in 1993. She then started her academic career in the chemistry department at Washington University in St. Louis as an assistant professor.

Wooley was named a James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Arts & Sciences at Washington University while also holding a joint appointment in the School of Medicine. She has been the W. T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M since 2009.

Wooley has received Young Investigator Awards from the National Science Foundation (1994), the Army Research Office (1996), and the Office of Naval Research (1998). She received an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from ACS (2002) and the Herman F. Mark Scholar Award from the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry (2009).

She served as chair of the 2007 Gordon Research Conference on Polymers and has been chair of the National Institutes of Health Nanotechnology Study Section and editor of the Journal of Polymer Science, Part A: Polymer Chemistry, for the past decade. At the beginning of this year, she took on an associate editor position at the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Wooley will present the award address before the Division of Polymer Chemistry.


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