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2021 ACS National Award winners—Part I

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

January 2, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 1

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The following vignettes highlight the recipients of national awards administered by the American Chemical Society for 2021. Profiles of the Arthur C. Cope Award and Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award recipients will appear in the Jan. 11 issue of C&EN. A profile of Paul Alivisatos, the 2021 Priestley Medalist, will appear in the March 22 issue, along with his award address. The award recipients will be honored at a ceremony in the fall of 2021.

ACS Award in Analytical Chemistry: Héctor D. Abruña

Sponsor: Battelle Memorial Institute

Citation: For revolutionizing the understanding of electrochemical interfaces by pioneering development of operando methods, modification of electrode surfaces, and development of fuel cell and battery materials

Current position: Emile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry, Cornell University

Education: BSc, MS, chemistry, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; PhD, analytical chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Abruña on the most stimulating aspect of his work: “Without a doubt, the best part of the job is working with students and postdocs. They make coming to work a true joy. They are simply spectacular, and I have been blessed with enormously talented undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs. It is simply a thing of beauty to see them develop, from initially tentative individuals to spectacularly self-assured professionals.”

What Abruña’s colleagues say: “The best single word definition of Professor Abruña is ‘creativity.’ He has been involved in different areas of research and always has contributed with seminal findings that have inspired other scientists worldwide to develop their own research lines. His work started mostly in analytical electrochemistry, but he was directed soon to physical electrochemistry. His focus has been crucial in the development of future applications of fuel cells, batteries, and single-molecule devices.”—Juan M. Feliu, University of Alicante

Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids: Biman Bagchi

This is a photo of Biman Bagchi.
Credit: Courtesy of Biman Bagchi
Biman Bagchi

Sponsor: ExxonMobil Research & Engineering

Citation: For developing theories of solvation dynamics; barrierless chemical reactions; Förster energy transfer; mode-coupling theory of electrolyte conduction, diffusion, and viscosity; water in biological systems; binary liquid mixtures; and phase transitions

Current position: Honorary professor, Indian Institute of Science; Indian National Science Chair Professor, Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science and Technology

Education: BSc, chemistry, Presidency College; MSc, chemistry, Calcutta University; PhD, chemistry, Brown University

Bagchi’s biggest research challenge: “When I returned from the US in 1984 to start research in India, I had no computer, no grant, no students—for the first 3 years. I had to reorient my research goals. That was perhaps the time I started looking into experiments more closely in the hope of making a contribution, which can be made single-handedly by building simple, solvable physical and mathematical models. It paid off in the sense that I could achieve some things.”

What Bagchi’s colleagues say: “Biman Bagchi has contributed highly original and creative ideas that have brought new levels of understanding and predictability to complex chemical and biological systems. His enormous breadth and restless curiosity have led to important insights on the role of solvents in chemical reactions, enzyme catalysis, DNA-protein interactions, phase transition, and the nature of water in biological systems. In addition, through his training of graduate students and their subsequent careers, he has essentially single-handedly raised the level of theoretical chemistry in India to be competitive at the highest level worldwide.”—Graham Fleming, University of California, Berkeley

ACS Award for Team Innovation: François Beaume, Jean-Michel Espenan, Walter P. Kosar Jr., Olivier Lorain, Gregory S. O’Brien, and Roderick Reber III

Sponsor: ACS Corporation Associates

Citation: In recognition of the development and commercialization of durable antifouling poly(vinylidene fluoride) hollow fiber ultrafiltration membranes for water purification using block copolymers

What their colleagues say: “There are now more than 20 commercial installations representing over 4 million gallons per day of capacity using this breakthrough technology. It is through concerted efforts like these that solutions to grand challenges such as access to clean water will be realized in society.”—Steven Baxter, Arkema

This is a photo of François Beaume.
Credit: Courtesy of François Beaume
François Beaume

François Beaume

Current position: Senior R&D engineer, Arkema

Education: Degree in engineering, Chimie ParisTech–PSL; PhD, polymer science, ESPCI ParisTech

Beaume on what gets his creative juices flowing: “The desire of continuously improved solutions to various issues—in terms of performance, durability and sustainability, ease of utilization, etc.—and bringing them to the market and ultimately making them available for everyone’s benefit. This development is a good example of improving water quality with less resources needed and extended durability. I am turning to a different R&D area in energy now but the spirit remains unchanged!”

Jean-Michel Espenan

This is a photo of Jean-Michel Espenan.
Credit: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Espenan
Jean-Michel Espenan

Current position: President, Polymem SA

Education: MS, biochemistry engineering, National Institute of Applied Science, University of Toulouse; DEA, industrial microbiology, and PhD, membrane manufacturing, Paul Sabatier University

Espenan on what he hopes for the future: “Chemistry can be considered the mother of all sciences. The challenge today is to ensure that earthlings and especially the younger generations no longer perceive chemistry as a generator of pollution but as a formidable basis for understanding and solving all the technological challenges posed by the growth of the population of our Earth, multiplied by 3 since the date of my birth.”

This is a photo of Walter P. Kosar Jr.
Credit: Courtesy of Walter P. Kosar Jr.
Walter P. Kosar Jr.

Walter P. Kosar Jr.

Current position: Senior research scientist, Arkema

Education: BA, chemistry, Ithaca College; PhD, inorganic chemistry, University of Rochester

Kosar on what gets his creative juices flowing: “It’s all about making connections. In the same way Einstein took current developments in electromagnetism and physics to develop his theory of relativity, there are many pieces of scientific knowledge all around us waiting to be assembled into new concepts. This is how we came up with the idea of our block copolymer enhanced antifouling membranes. It’s all in the assembly of those pieces where the excitement comes in. I enjoy working in cross-functional teams, looking for opportunities to integrate leading-edge discoveries into practical applications. I am very fortunate to work with skilled colleagues in an international setting. It has greatly broadened my perspectives on science.”

Olivier Lorain

Credit: Courtesy of Olivier Lorain
Olivier Lorain

Current position: Research manager, Polymem SA

Education: Master’s degree, chemical engineering science, Paul Sabatier University; PhD, chemical engineering applied to environmental science, National Institute of Applied Science, University of Toulouse

Lorain on what gets his creative juices flowing: “My father was a craftsman and self-made man. I grew up next to him and even if he was not a very good pedagogue he showed me that nothing is impossible to do, and creativity is your best friend to do whatever you have in your mind. Since then, naturally, when I am faced with a problem, I keep calm like he did and find the solutions to solve it.”

Gregory S. O’Brien

Current position: R&D fellow, Arkema

Education: BS, polymer science, Pennsylvania State University; MS, polymer science and engineering, University of Massachusetts

O’Brien on what gets his creative juices flowing: “The idea of applying new technological discoveries to complex problems. The ability to in this case apply nanosegregated block copolymer technology in a very complex technology for producing ultrafiltration membranes. By understanding and controlling this, it allows us to produce clean drinking water with lower energy consumption and longer life filtration membranes. The membrane production process has a high kinetically driven component, making it more complex to evaluate new material performance. Applying block copolymers to this complex process gets my juices flowing.”

This is a photo of Roderick Reber III.
Credit: Courtesy of Roderick Reber III
Roderick Reber III

Roderick Reber III

Current position: Applications development and technical service engineer, Arkema

Education: BS, materials science and engineering, Pennsylvania State University; MSE, materials science and engineering, Drexel University; MBA, Villanova University

Reber on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to spread useful ideas across the globe. To me, the absolute most amazing thing about the age we are living in is the speed at which ideas can spread. I hope the work I am doing helps someone else somewhere in the world even in an incremental way.”

This is a photo of Timothy Berkelbach.
Credit: Courtesy of Timothy Berkelbach
Timothy Berkelbach

National Fresenius Award: Timothy C. Berkelbach

Sponsor: Phi Lambda Upsilon, the National Chemistry Honor Society

Citation: For outstanding theoretical and computational contributions to the excited-state electronic properties of novel solids and nanomaterials

Current position: Assistant professor of chemistry, Columbia University

Education: BA, chemistry and physics, New York University; PhD, chemical physics, Columbia University

Berkelbach on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to see the quantum methods that we develop redefine what is possible by computer simulation—either in accuracy, complexity, or both—and used to make an impact in materials technology. I also hope to have substantively and positively shaped the next generation of scientific thinkers through my teaching and advising. Having witnessed their awesome capabilities, I am excited to see their future impact on society through chemistry or otherwise.”

What Berkelbach’s colleagues say: “Professor Berkelbach is a truly outstanding scientist, a real star driven by natural curiosity complemented by the highest level of skills. His combination of theoretical and computational abilities, along with his deep physical insights, are truly unique.”—Eran Rabani, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

This is a photo of Veronica Marie Bierbaum.
Credit: Courtesy of Veronica Marie Bierbaum
Veronica Marie Bierbaum

Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry: Veronica Marie Bierbaum

Sponsor: Waters

Citation: For pioneering contributions to gas phase ion chemistry, including detailed reaction mechanisms, quantitative thermochemistry, and novel astrochemistry, enabled by innovative developments in instrumentation

Current position: Professor emeritus, University of Colorado Boulder

Education: BA, chemistry, Catholic University of America; PhD, physical chemistry, University of Pittsburgh

Bierbaum on her scientific role model: “As a young student, I read the biography of Marie Curie, written by her daughter Ève. I had been aware of Marie’s groundbreaking work in physics and chemistry, but I became captivated by her passion for discovery and truth, her tenacity in the face of discrimination, her disregard for fame and fortune, and her remarkable humanitarian work during World War I. Marie’s brilliance, humility, and deep love of science continue to inspire me.”

What Bierbaum’s colleagues say: “Professor Veronica Bierbaum has pioneered the study of the reactivities of molecular cations and anions in interstellar and astrochemical environments. By integrating novel ionization methods, she has generated a host of interstellar and planetary ions and characterized their reactions with numerous atomic and molecular species. Her highly original work has transformed our understanding of the chemistry of the interstellar medium and has special relevance to today’s concerns for the terrestrial environment—indeed, the universe.”—Catherine Costello, Boston University School of Medicine

ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry: Kristin Bowman-James

This is a photo of Kristin Bowman-James.
Credit: Courtesy of Kristin Bowman-James
Kristin Bowman-James

Sponsor: MilliporeSigma

Citation: For her fundamental contributions to inorganic chemistry by providing insight to anion coordination from a transition metal coordination perspective

Current position: University Distinguished Professor, University of Kansas

Education: BS and PhD, chemistry, Temple University

Bowman-James on her biggest research challenge: “Convincing my inorganic colleagues that anion coordination is a viable area of chemistry and in some ways like transition metal coordination. While some caught on right away, others were (and probably some still are) diehards. My current challenge is tackling an anion that possesses a significant range of negative charges (–1 to –12). We are using supramolecular chemistry to unravel the structural chemistry of this quirky, structurally elusive, and highly phosphorylated biomolecule, myo-inositol-1,2,3,4,5,6-hexakisphosphate, known as phytate.”

What Bowman-James’s colleagues say: “Kristin’s research over the last several decades has shown both originality in thought and creativity in fundamental inorganic chemistry. Supramolecular chemists tend to come from an organic chemistry background, but with her inorganic background and approach, Kristin has described a new type of coordination chemistry: the supramolecular coordination chemistry of anions.”—Darren Johnson, University of Oregon

ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science: Dirk J. Broer

This is a photo of Dirk J. Broer.
Credit: Courtesy of Dirk J. Broer
Dirk J. Broer

Sponsor: Eastman Chemical

Citation: For pioneering discoveries in the field of liquid crystalline materials, particularly in the areas of reactive, smart materials for optical and display applications

Current position: Emeritus professor, Eindhoven University of Technology; professor, South China Normal University

Education: Ing, chemical engineering, Hogere Technische School; PhD, chemistry, University of Groningen

What Broer hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to make the step to really ‘self-thinking’ polymeric material, designed on a molecular level and shaped by multimaterial and multiscale processing. This is the holy grail leading us to smart materials performing complex functions. An important aspect is also that we give polymers the ability to communicate by exchanging information. Communication between man and material (machine), but also communication between the materials themselves.”


What Broer’s colleagues say: “He has an unparalleled ability to identify critical problems and needs in various applications, most particularly in the field of optically active polymers and displays, and then to develop simple, out-of-the-box solutions for those problems.”—Christopher Bowman, University of Colorado Boulder

ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences: Kay M. Brummond

This is a photo of Kay M. Brummond.
Credit: Courtesy of Kay M. Brummond
Kay M. Brummond

Sponsor: Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation

Citation: For serving as a pathfinder, an agent of change, and mentor to women at all stages of their careers in the chemical sciences

Current position: Professor of chemistry and associate dean for faculty, University of Pittsburgh

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Nebraska–Lincoln; PhD, chemistry, Pennsylvania State University

What Brummond hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to prepare the next generation of chemists with practical skills in synthetic, organic, and computational chemistries to thrive in highly collaborative and team-oriented environments. As an active researcher and academic leader, I hope to close diversity, equality, and inclusion gaps in the sciences.”

What Brummond’s colleagues say: “Not content to keep her head down, she has tried at every stage to leverage her position to make the chemical field a more welcoming place for women.”—Tara Y. Meyer, University of Pittsburgh

Francis P. Garvan–John M. Olin Medal: Carol J. Burns

This is a photo of Carol J. Burns
Credit: Courtesy of Carol J. Burns
Carol J. Burns

Sponsor: Francis P. Garvan–John M. Olin Medal Endowment

Citation: For exceptional service to the chemistry community through pioneering research in actinide chemistry, service in national security, and championing workforce development and equity in science

Current position: Executive officer and laboratory fellow, science, technology, and engineering, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Education: BA, chemistry, Rice University; PhD, inorganic chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

What gets Burns’s creative juices flowing: “I feel most creative when working in a team in which my colleagues bring a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone has something unique to contribute, and we all have something to learn from each other’s good ideas. When challenged with a tough problem to solve (either immediately in front of us or a long-term challenge), it can be very invigorating to brainstorm in this kind of environment.”

What Burns’s colleagues say: “Burns’s research program in actinide coordination and organometallic chemistry has contributed substantially to our understanding of the electronic structure of the early actinides and inspires much current work in the field.”—Geraldine Richmond, University of Oregon

James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry: Peter Chen

This is a photo of Peter Chen.
Credit: Courtesy of Peter Chen
Peter Chen

Sponsor: ACS Northeastern Section

Citation: For creative use of gas-phase methods for the investigation of organometallic catalysis in solution

Current position: Professor of organic chemistry and head of the Group of Coordination Chemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Chicago; PhD, chemistry, Yale University

What Chen says gets his creative juices flowing: “There is nothing like experimental results to get the juices flowing. What could the results mean? Where do we go from here? How do we fix this problem?”

What Chen’s colleagues say: “The Chen group may be the only one in the world that combines all of the competences, ranging from fundamental physical organic experiments in the gas phase and in solution, computational chemistry, synthesis of model compounds as well as actual catalysts, kinetics and spectroscopy, all the way to the development of ‘real’ catalysts and catalytic reactions.”—Josef Michl, University of Colorado Boulder and Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science and Technology: Majed Chergui

This is a photo of Majed Chergui.
Credit: Courtesy of Majed Chergui
Majed Chergui

Sponsor: Ahmed Zewail Endowment Fund, established by Newport

Citation: For pioneering ultrafast X-ray spectroscopy and developing novel ultrafast deep-ultraviolet spectroscopic tools for the study of chemical dynamics in solutions and charge-carrier dynamics in materials

Current position: Professor, Lab of Ultrafast Spectroscopy, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL), and Lausanne Centre for Ultrafast Science

Education: BSc, physics and mathematics, University of London; MSc, atomic and molecular physics, and PhD, physics, Paris-Sud University; Habilitation, physics, University Sorbonne Paris Nord

Who Chergui’s scientific role model is and why: “Ahmed Zewail, after whom the award is named. He was a source of inspiration not only for the field, but also for his approach to scientific questioning. I always admired his way of solving problems in a simple and profound way.”

What Chergui’s colleagues say: “Professor Chergui’s research has had a large impact in the field of ultrafast structural dynamics. On the one hand, his development of new methods for time-resolved X-ray and UV spectroscopies has opened many possibilities to follow the structural dynamics of a wide range of chemical and biochemical systems. On the other hand, the tools he has developed have enabled him to unravel the complete electronic and geometric structure changes in a number of molecular systems, biological ones, and solid materials. His work has had a great influence on a large number of researchers, be it for the development of new techniques (in particular, the X-ray spectroscopy ones) or for opening new scientific areas of research, such as the spin dynamics in inorganic chemistry or the charge carrier dynamics in solar materials.”—Xile Hu, EPFL

Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis: Paul J. Chirik

This is a photo of Paul J. Chirik.
Credit: Courtesy of Paul J. Chirik
Paul J. Chirik

Sponsor: Gabor A. and Judith K. Somorjai Endowment Fund

Citation: For pioneering work in sustainable catalysis with Earth-abundant elements that through control of electronic structure transformed the way chemists approach the periodic table

Current position: Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry, Princeton University

Education: BS, chemistry, Virginia Tech; PhD, chemistry, California Institute of Technology

What Chirik hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “Continue to inspire the next generation of scientists that come through my group and in our field. Many of the challenges in the 21st century will be solved by innovative catalysis and we need the best minds to tackle them. As for specific scientific challenges, I hope our team continues to make important fundamental and applied contributions to sustainable catalysis. The beauty of our field is that we can always do better—the catalyst can be more active, less expensive to make, or promote new chemistry. In 10 years time, I hope to look back and say, ‘Wow, I never thought we would be able to do that!’ ”

What Chirik’s colleagues say: “Chirik’s pioneering work on Earth-abundant metals—iron, cobalt, and nickel—in catalysis has been applied across a spectrum of industries including the pharmaceutical, flavor and fragrance, petrochemical, and commodity silicones. His work has been a unique combination of the fundamental and applied and has inspired one of the hottest current topics in organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis.”—Tom W. Muir, Princeton University


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