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James Flack Norris Award In Physical Organic Chemistry

by Glenn Hess
March 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 9

Sponsored by the ACS Northeastern Section

Credit: Courtesy of Matthew S. Platz
Matthew S. Platz, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Hawaii at Hilo
Credit: Courtesy of Matthew S. Platz

Widely recognized as one of the leading experts on the reaction dynamics of carbenes and nitrenes, Matthew S. Platz is viewed by his colleagues as a major shaper of contemporary physical organic chemistry.

“Matt Platz exemplifies the innovation, productivity, intellectual rigor, and generous spirit that have characterized some of the most revered figures in the history of physical organic chemistry,” says Barry K. Carpenter, a professor and director of the Physical Organic Chemistry Centre at Cardiff University, in Wales.

Currently the vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, Platz says he first became fascinated by the study of organic reaction mechanisms as an undergraduate.

“I was inspired by the thought that one could learn how to control the outcome of chemical reactions by judicious choice of reagents and reaction conditions,” he remarks. “That is a thread throughout my research career.”

The Norris Award recognizes work Platz and his collaborators performed over the past decade using the tools of femtosecond and picosecond time-resolved spectroscopy.

At its heart, Platz explains, this body of work is concerned with molecules in excited states and the factors that control the shedding of extra energy by chemical and physical processes.

“In my graduate school days, theory struggled to answer what are now easy questions about relaxed molecules, such as the bond angle of triplet methylene,” he says. “I hope that our work on excited molecules provides theorists some landmarks that can be used to calibrate new methods and enhance the ability of computational chemistry to predict and model excited-state chemistry.”

Platz, 62, says he is “truly honored and humbled” to win the Norris Award. “My name is now associated with my mentors (Jerome Berson and Gerhard Closs) and my mentors’ mentors (Shelton Bank and P. D. Bartlett), and lifelong friends and collaborators (Barry Carpenter and Weston Borden), people whom I greatly admire and who have tremendously enriched my life. I hope this award means that they feel I was worth the investment of their time and tutelage.”

Platz received B.Sc. degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University at Albany, SUNY, in 1973 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale University in 1977. He joined the faculty of Ohio State University as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1978, was promoted to associate professor in 1984, became full professor in 1990, and served as department chair from 1994–99.

Platz won awards at Ohio State for distinguished teaching and research, and in 2001, he was named Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry. He also served the university as a vice provost and dean.

From September 2010 through the end of 2012, Platz was on leave from Ohio State serving as director of the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry. At NSF, he led the development of a new program to encourage and foster research in sustainable chemistry, engineering, and materials and a new NSF-Environmental Protection Agency joint program in green chemistry.

Platz has mentored more than 100 students, published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, edited two books, delivered more than 200 invited lectures, and holds more than a dozen patents.

Platz will present the award address before the Division of Organic Chemistry.


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