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Chemistry Department Continues Award-Winning Legacy


Columbia's chemistry department is no stranger to accolades. The University has been home to many renowned chemists: Nobel Laureates Harold Urey, who discovered deuterium, a form of hydrogen, and Edward Kendall, a pioneer in the study of cortical steroids. Louis Hammett, the father of physical organic chemistry, and Victor LaMer, a pioneer in the physical chemistry of colloidal systems, were longtime members of the department as well. So it's no surprise that the department's award-winning legacy continues as the department brings its cutting-edge research into the 21st century. So far this academic year, six faculty members have won prestigious awards; three new members have been recruited; and three assistant professors have been promoted to tenure.

"The Department of Chemistry consists of an extraordinary group of chemists, recognized by numerous awards, and this is shaping up to be a banner year. One measure of its stature in the scientific world is that eight professors in the department are members of the National Academy of Sciences, almost one quarter of the members from all of Columbia University," said Bruce Berne, Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry and chair of the department.

Louis Brus, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, won the 2005 American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemistry of Materials Prize, sponsored by DuPont. The award recognizes research in establishing the field of semiconductor nanocrystals, which has applications that range from working as luminescent labels for studying biological systems to serving as effective components of medical diagnostic tools. Earlier in 2004, Brus was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and he will be named the Samuel Latham Mitchill Professor of Chemistry.

Koji Nakanishi, Centennial Professor of Chemistry, was awarded the 2004 Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry. The prize honors his research on the makeup of cancer-causing and anti-cancer substances, specifically, the structural determination of 250 physiologically natural products, and clarification of the structural basis of benzpyrene carcinogenicity and mitomycin C. Nakanishi also has contributed to clarifying the basis of visual transduction and age-related macular degeneration. He has received awards from 12 nations. Since 1996, a Nakanishi Prize of the Chemical Societies of Japan and USA is awarded in alternate years in the two countries.

Professor of Chemistry Jack Norton's kinetic and mechanistic studies on organometallic complexes, especially metal hydrides, have provided a rational basis for understanding their reactivity and developing novel catalysts that accelerate the rate of a chemical reaction. These results have been useful in developing new catalysts that enable chemical reactions to occur while remaining unaffected themselves. For his work, he will receive the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry for 2005, sponsored by Dow Chemical Company Foundation.

Gilbert Stork, Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and special research scientist in Columbia's chemistry department, will receive the 2005 Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods. This award was established to recognize outstanding and creative research in this particular area of organic chemistry. In the early 1950s, Stork led groundbreaking work in synthesizing precise three-dimensional structures of many complex organic compounds, knowledge that has become central to pharmaceutical research. Since the Herbert C. Brown Award was first bestowed in 1998, half of its recipients have been affiliated with the "Stork group," as his research team is known. Stork himself has received a number of honors, including the National Medal of Science, the Welch Prize, the Wolf Prize and a number of honorary doctorates, including one from Columbia . He is an honorary member of various distinguished societies, including the French Académie des Sciences.

Two other professors have received Mayor's Medals. William P. Schweitzer Professor of Chemistry Nicholas Turro was awarded the New York Mayor's Medal for Excellence in Physical Sciences. And Colin Nuckolls, associate professor in the field of Organic Materials Chemistry, received the Mayor's Medal for Excellence in Science for a Young Investigator.

In the Department

After a rigorous search, three faculty members have been added to the department: David Reichman joined the department as professor of chemistry. Reichman, a theoretical chemist, is a leading researcher in the field of statistical mechanics of soft condensed matter systems. He was associate professor with tenure in the chemistry department at Harvard and is the first tenured professor of chemistry to leave Harvard for a professorship elsewhere.

Laura Kaufman, an experimentalist working on confocal microscopy studies of the dynamics of cellular and colloidal systems, joined the department as assistant professor of physical chemistry. She received her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley and worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at Harvard. And Brent Stockwell, a chemical biologist from the Whitehead Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined both the biology and chemistry departments as assistant professor.

Assistant Professors Virginia Cornish, Colin Nuckolls and Dalibor Sames have each been promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure. Associate Professor Jim Leighton has been promoted to the rank of full professor with tenure. Professors Cornish and Nuckolls work in the fields of chemical biology and materials organic chemistry, respectively. Professors Sames and Leighton both work in the field of synthetic organic chemistry.

"The department of chemistry has been very successful in recruiting outstanding young scientists. The addition of Kaufman, Reichman and Stockwell and the promotions of Cornish, Nuckolls, Sames and Leighton attest to this success. Instrumental in the recruitment of new faculty and the retention of young faculty is the renovation of the laboratory space in Chandler Hall and the promise of a new science building on the north campus. Without the extraordinary support of the central administration, none of this would have been possible," said Berne.

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Published: Oct 20, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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