If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



E. V. Murphree Award In Industrial & Engineering Chemistry

by Alex Scott
January 19, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 3

Credit: Eastman Chemical
Mug of Joseph R. Zoeller
Credit: Eastman Chemical

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering

Eastman Chemical wouldn’t be as successful as it is without its research fellow Joseph R. Zoeller, and particularly his work beginning in the 1980s investigating, developing, and improving methyl acetate carbonylation chemistry. That’s according to Shawn M. Dougherty, Eastman’s chemistry research lab group leader; Gregory W. Nelson, retired Eastman chief technology officer; and Kevin J. Edgar, professor of biomaterials and bioprocessing for Virginia Tech.

Zoeller, 61, was a key member of a team that developed a methyl acetate carbonylation process for making industrial quantities of acetic anhydride using rhodium chloride in the presence of lithium iodide as the catalyst. “It is difficult to appreciate now what a daring innovation the Eastman acetic anhydride process was,” Edgar states. Zoeller’s deep mechanistic work enabled greatly improved catalyst recovery and process efficiency and reduced downtime in methyl acetate carbonylation, Edgar adds. Acetic anhydride is a reagent with a broad range of applications from coatings to wood preservation, bakery additives, starch modifiers, and even sweeteners.

Zoeller attributes part of his success to his ability to consider an industrial plant as a whole system, a skill he learned when studying total synthesis as an organic chemist. Another important part of Zoeller’s approach is his first-rate mechanistic work for enhancing the understanding of the most important catalytic processes and then applying that understanding, Edgar says.

Zoeller’s impact at Eastman is as long as it is distinguished: He has been donning Eastman lab goggles in Kingsport, Tenn., ever since he finished his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Virginia Tech in 1981. During his more than 30 years at Eastman, Zoeller has contributed to the development of a broad range of chemical products and polymer intermediates. He has been granted 62 U.S. patents with a further nine patents pending and has published 22 scientific papers in journals or serial publications. Among other fields of chemistry, he is keen to investigate what happens in the first few layers of molecules of dissimilar surfaces. “I am fascinated by what we are going to learn to do with surface and interfacial chemistry,” he says.

Zoeller knew he was going to be a scientist even before he received his first microscope at the age of seven and a Gilbert chemistry set when he was eight. But until he was 15, he was convinced he would be a biologist. Then, at Farmingdale Senior High School in New York state, he encountered chemistry teacher Lousetta Turner. Rather than answer Zoeller’s questions, Turner encouraged him to discover the answers himself by opening up the lab for him every day after school hours. “Unencumbered, hands-on access to a chemistry lab was an addictive experience and sealed my future,” he says.

Zoeller’s importance to Eastman doesn’t end with chemistry. He also mentors and teaches incoming Eastman staffers. “Joe’s boundless energy and dedication to the field of chemistry serves as a great example,” Dougherty states.

Edgar, Nelson, and Dougherty also ­consider that there is far more to Zoeller than excellence in chemistry. As Edgar states, “Zoeller is a brilliant, hardworking scientist, but his character is even more stellar.”

Zoeller will present his award address before the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.