University of Rochester

Three University Researchers Win Nation's Top Chemistry Award

January 21, 2003

Three University of Rochester professors have each won the most prestigious award in chemistry in their division. The American Chemical Society (ACS) issues a single award in each of approximately 50 categories to researchers throughout the nation at the end of each year, recognizing scientists who have distinguished themselves in their field.

The 2003 award recipients from Rochester, William Jones, Richard S. Eisenberg, and Andrew S. Kende, are working on ways to cheaply and efficiently convert chemicals such as petroleum into plastics and medicines, using sunlight to create fuels, and constructing custom-made molecules. The list is presented in the January issues of Chemical and Engineering News.

"I'm delighted for these three members of our faculty and for the College and the University, but I'm not surprised in some sense," says Charles Phelps, provost of the University. "They and their colleagues have been working at the very forefront of some terrifically good and interesting things for some time. This is, in effect, a very nice trio of chickens coming home to roost."

William Jones, the C. F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry, won the ACS award for organometallic chemistry for his groundbreaking work in petroleum chemistry. Jones focuses on chemically converting the hydrocarbons in petroleum directly into more valuable materials that are used in end products like medicines, plastics or other fuels. The key is in finding efficient ways to break and reform the bonds between hydrogen and carbon in petroleum. This is currently done with an elaborate process that demands multiple costly chemical plants, each taking the conversion process forward one step at a time. Jones is trying to find a way to take several steps in a single leap, thereby possibly saving millions of dollars in the refining process.

Jones is also working to cut the amount of sulfur in gasoline and diesel fuels. Sulfur is a key component of acid rain and the Environmental Protection Agency has demanded that the amount of sulfur in gasoline must be 20 times lower by 2006. Most sulfur is currently removed from gasoline as it is refined, but Jones is hoping to create a new method that will drop sulfur to the required minute levels at less expense than the current process.

"Jones' record of research includes not only 'firsts' but 'bests' involving originality in experimental design, elegance in execution and deep insight in data analysis," says Charles P. Casey, chair of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and President-elect of the American Chemical Society. "There are very few organometallic chemists who can match Bill's combination of skills and insight."

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

Richard S. Eisenberg won the Distinguished Service Award for his long record of service to the chemistry community in addition to his research. One aspect of Eisenberg's service is his role as editor-in-chief of the journal Inorganic Chemistry, the most often cited journal in its field. He previously served terms as chair of the ACS's Division of Inorganic Chemistry and chair of the Organometalic Sub-Division. He has also been a conference and symposium organizer and a mentor to over 80 doctoral, postdoctoral and undergraduate students as well as to junior faculty.

"I'd like to think that this award has to do with communication," says Eisenberg. "In science it's essential, whether it means giving talks or writing technical papers or teaching. Sometimes we overlook that fact."

Harry B. Gray, Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, says of Eisenberg: "He has made major contributions to the subareas of synthesis and catalysis, and, importantly, he has been a wonderful citizen and promoter of the field of inorganic chemistry."

Eisenberg teaches introductory chemistry with an "energy and environment" theme he co-developed with colleague James Farrar, professor of chemistry, as an alternative curriculum for general chemistry. A recent pet project was a course newsgroup designed to encourage students to exchange ideas about chemistry, post essay answers to Web-related inquiries on energy production and utilization and interact with each other about course material.

Eisenberg joined the University in 1973 and served as chair of the chemistry department from 1991 to 1994. He earned his doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University in 1967.

Andrew S. Kende, C. F. Houghton Professor Emeritus, was recognized for 'the breadth, insight and creativity of his career in the areas of complex molecule synthesis and molecular rearrangements in organic chemistry as recipient of the ACS's Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award for a lifetime of contributions to chemistry.

Kende's research focuses on learning how to construct complex molecules on demand. Most of his efforts to devise new chemical compounds are aimed at developing pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, anti-cancer and anti-fungal drugs. One of his most important contributions makes possible the synthesis of the drug known as Taxol, a prevalent anti-cancer drug for which Kende created the essential carbon 'skeleton.'

Kende earned his doctorate from Harvard University in 1956 and accepted appointment as professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester in 1968. Since then he's received a Guggenheim Fellowship, an award from the Japan Society for Promotion of Science, has served as president of Organic Syntheses Inc. and as consultant for numerous companies. He recently completed five years as an associate editor of Journal of Organic Chemistry and is currently a director of Organic Reactions Inc.