University of Rochester

Two Chemists Named to Endowed Professorships

September 8, 2000

William Jones, professor of chemistry, has been named Charles Frederick Houghton Professor at the University of Rochester, and Shaul Mukamel, professor of chemistry, has been named C. E. Kenneth Mees Professor.

Jones, who is chair of the Department of Chemistry, received the honor partly for his work in organo-metallic chemistry-the study of the chemical reactions between metals and different molecules in substances like petroleum and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In the 1980s, Jones determined a way to turn certain chemicals in petroleum into other chemicals that can eventually be safely used in things like cleansers or shampoo.

More recently, Jones turned his attention to CFCs. CFCs are thought to be a major component in global warming partly because they do not break down very easily, and thus exist for very long periods of time. CFCs are regularly used in industry, especially in air conditioners, and are common components of environmental waste. Jones is studying ways to change the molecular makeup of CFCs so that instead of polluting the environment, they can be converted into safe, household items like Teflon non-stick coatings for pots and pans. Industry has been interested in Jones' research on petroleum as well.

"In about five years, the Environmental Protection Agency will lower the amount of sulfur allowable in gasoline by ten-fold," says Jones. "One of my main research areas is working on ways to chemically remove sulfur from petroleum." He notes that the petroleum industry will have to make decisions soon about whether to build more sulfur-removing plants or try something novel, like the methods Jones' research suggests.

Jones earned his doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1979 before coming to the University in 1980. Since then he's been the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Fulbright-Hays Scholarship, and Royal Society Guest Research Fellowship.

His colleague, Shaul Mukamel, has developed novel ways to observe and interpret molecular dynamics. His research focuses on how to use the briefest of laser pulses to shed light on activities such as the making and breaking of chemical bonds. These ultrafast bursts of light-somewhat akin to molecular snapshots taken with a shutter speed of one millionth of a billionth of a second-offer rare insights into the stream of minute forces that continually buffet all molecules. He showed how to use such techniques to probe the structure and motions of large molecules including proteins. This work had opened up a new field of multidimensional spectroscopy which is currently the focus of intensive experimental activity. Mukamel frequently focuses his research on materials like polymers and semiconductors, which are important to the electronics and imaging industries.

Mukamel's work also delves into biochemistry, examining how biological systems harvest light during photosynthesis and then convert that light into the chemical energy that makes life possible.

Mukamel, who earned his doctorate from Tel Aviv University in 1976, has served as a visiting faculty member at the University of Paris, the University of Tokyo, and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. A fellow of both the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, Mukamel has also received Guggenheim and Sloan fellowships, a Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award and the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award.

Mukamel's book, Principles of Nonlinear Optical Spectroscopy, is widely used as that field's standard text; Mukamel also serves on the editorial board of the journal Chemical Physics Letters. Closer to home, he is a member of the University's Council on Graduate Studies.

The Charles Frederick Houghton Professorship was established in 1925 by Mrs. Charles Vail, the widow of Charles Frederick Houghton. Houghton was vice president of the Corning Glass Works and was for many years active in government affairs in New York State and the State Assembly. The Mees Professorship was established in honor of the late Dr. Mees, who headed the Eastman Kodak Company's research laboratories for more than 40 years. In 1965, the University's observatory in the Bristol Hills was named for Mees.