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Environment

Francis P. Garvan–John M. Olin Medal

by Jeff Johnson
March 2, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 9

Wilson
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Credit: U of North Texas
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Credit: U of North Texas

Sponsored by the Francis P. Garvan–John M. Olin Medal Endowment

As an undergraduate, Angela Wilson was struck by the power of computational chemistry and drawn to its combination of chemistry, math, physics, and computer science.

That interest grew, and Wilson, 47, is now Regents Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Texas and director of the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing & Modeling. The center is made up of some 100 university researchers in the sciences and engineering. Wilson is considered a world leader in quantum chemistry methodologies, and her scientific approach and methodologies are implemented in many of the most widely used computational chemistry programs.

“Computational chemistry is fascinating in its ability to address a wide array of problems,” she explains. “My true love is quantum chemistry and trying to get very accurate predictions of energetic properties and answer fundamental questions—like how much energy does it take to break apart a molecule or how much energy does it take to make a reaction occur—and then trying to describe that relationship well.”

A clear indicator of Wilson’s impact is scientific journal citations, say colleagues. One of her articles, for instance, is among the top 10 most cited papers in the history of the Journal of Molecular Structure: THEOCHEM. She also has four articles with more than 500 citations and one with more than 1,000.

She has been designated a lifetime national associate of the U.S. National Academies for her “extraordinary service” to the National Research Council. She is also a leader of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and a fellow of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society.

Wilson has also served on many local and national ACS committees, supporters note, including organizing symposia for ACS national meetings, two of which culminated in books.

Her work at North Texas also includes mentoring high school and college students in a unique statewide program. The Texas Academy of Mathematics & Science each year brings some 375 high school students with abilities and interest in math and science to live on campus for the last two years of high school, she explains.

They earn a high school diploma while working toward a college degree. The students team up with Wilson’s research group. Both learn from the exchange—the high school students learn advanced science, and her Ph.D. students gain insight into advising and interacting with younger students.

For Wilson, a high school demonstration led to her chemistry career. A respected chemistry teacher accidentally dropped a large piece of sodium into a water beaker. The reaction blew a hole in the ceiling.

“The accident cleared the halls,” she says, and fixed the field of chemistry in her mind. She went on to college and three internships at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington.

She returned to the national lab for postdoctoral work and now chairs its user executive committee for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

Wilson has a Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a B.S. in chemistry from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash.

Wilson will present her award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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