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Joel Henry Hildebrand Award In The Theoretical & Experimental Chemistry Of Liquids

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

Credit: Department of Chemistry/Renn State
Mug of Maroncelli
Credit: Department of Chemistry/Renn State

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering

Mark Maroncelli was first inspired to study solvation dynamics by a maverick professor with whom he took a tutorial on elementary statistical mechanics while an undergraduate student at Williams College. During this tutorial, “I learned that there was a lot of activity directed at understanding the fundamentals of liquids,” Maroncellisays. “And for some reason, I got jazzed on the topic.”

Maroncelli lost track of this professor. On the other hand, he remained enthusiastic about the study of the chemistry of liquids, making a uniquely long-term commitment to the field.

Maroncelli received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983. But his focus on the chemistry of liquids began when he was a postdoctoral student at the University of Chicago, where he worked for Graham Fleming, a pioneer in the field and previous Hildebrand Award recipient. He began his academic career as a chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University in 1987.

Maroncelli’s laboratory at Penn State has made pioneering contributions to the understanding of solvation, especially in the area of solvation dynamics or the mechanisms by which the nonequilibrium configuration of solvent molecules around excited-state reactants and newly formed products relaxes to lower energy states. Maroncelli’s research has also achieved key insights into electron- and proton-transfer reactions.

Among his 113 peer-reviewed papers is a landmark study titled “Subpicosecond Measurements of Polar Solvation Dynamics: Coumarin 153 Revisited” (J. Phys. Chem. 1995, DOI: 10.1021/j100048a004). “That paper has been cited well over 1,000 times now,” says Edward Castner Jr., professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, who met and worked with Maroncelli when Castner was a grad student at the University of Chicago. “But he didn’t just let that one ride.”

Castner points to a new study published this past year by Maroncelli and Nikolaus P. Ernsting, chemistry professor at Humboldt University of Berlin, that investigates ionic liquid solvents. The paper, “Solvation Dynamics in a Prototypical Ionic Liquid and Dipolar Aprotic Liquid Mixture” (J. Phys. Chem. B 2014, DOI: 10.1021/jp412086t), is a second touchstone in the field, according to Castner.

Castner notes that experimentation in solvation dynamics is under way in many laboratories, including his own. “But Mark has been key in doing not only the seminal experiments, but also the theoretical and computational chemistry work to go along with it,” says Castner, who characterizes Maroncelli as a traditional scholar. “Mark is really fantastic at what he does because he gets a terrier-like grip on the details and does not let them go.”

“What I think I am best at is hitting something until I think I understand it,” Maroncelli says. “I’m not good at innovating or doing something totally novel, but when I get into a problem, I like to do as much as I can do to understand it as deeply as I can. If I have made any mark, that is the reason.”

Maroncelli, who is 57, will present his award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.


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