Salt Lake City researcher receives national award

March 21, 2000

Pioneered development of molecule-based magnets

Chemist Joel S. Miller of Salt Lake City, Utah, will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for pioneering development of molecule-based magnets, materials that require less energy to make and are potentially more versatile than metallic magnets. He will receive the American Chemical Society Award in the Chemistry of Materials at the Society's 219th national meeting in San Francisco.

Miller, now a professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, started his career in the early 1970s studying a new class of plastic-like compounds that could conduct electricity as metals do.

"Then it came to my mind that another property of metals can be magnetism," he said. "I asked myself whether I could use molecular chemistry to make magnetic yet nonmetallic materials."

Magnets are hidden but indispensable components of televisions, computers, electric motors, and a host of other products and systems. "The average car has about 20 magnets in it," Miller pointed out. Manufacturing magnets based on metals -- typically iron and oxides of iron -- requires high temperatures.

"But if you're working with some delicate high-tech electronics, you don't want to put molten iron on it. So a device's magnets usually need to be manufactured separately and added later," he said. "What we've brought to the game are magnets we can make at relatively low temperatures." That reduces energy requirements during processing, which lowers costs.

Unlike metals, molecule-based magnets can be dissolved in solvents and cast as thin films. That means it may be possible to integrate their manufacture with manufacture of the device itself. It also introduces new properties and applications, said Miller.

These have a twofold basis. Conventional magnetism arises from the unpaired electrons around metal atoms, which are sometimes held in position by other atoms such as oxygen. In molecule-based magnets, the unpaired electrons are in a different orbital -- to which surrounding atoms contribute as well as provide structure.

Miller said he played with a chemistry set as a boy, but didn't really consider a career in the field until he took chemistry in high school. "Then I decided that's where the fun was," he said.

The ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials is sponsored by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. of Wilmington, Del.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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