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Texas chemist wins national award for materials research

March 25, 2001

Chemist F. Albert Cotton of Bryan, Texas, will be honored April 3 by the world's largest scientific society for his fundamental achievements in making new materials and understanding their structures and properties. He will receive the 2001 Award in Organometallic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its 221st national meeting in San Diego.

Early in his career, Cotton participated in the discovery of a completely new kind of compound. Fifty years later, that experience "still impels me to look for the really, really new," said Cotton, distinguished professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, College Station. "I've never been interested in making a second example of anything."

His field, in which colleagues call him a pioneer, is organometallic chemistry - the overlap between inorganic and organic chemistry. While most chemistry is aimed at making organic products - plastics, pharmaceuticals and fuel, to name a few - the processes that make them are largely inorganic, he said.

"So the purpose of my research is to elucidate fundamental principles that control the formation of new forms of matter," explained Cotton. "This way we understand how to make things that don't already exist, but may be useful." An example is plastics - compounds now so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine life without them, he noted, but designed completely by humans, never nature.

He and his team constantly try new combinations of materials, chemical principles, or both. They then study the products down to their atoms, determining their structures with X rays and measuring their electrical, reactive and other properties.

"This is very much a one-thing-leads-to-another game," he said. "Every question answered, if it's good research, should raise at least one or probably two more."

Cotton said he can't remember a time he wasn't interested in science and chemistry. "I was building amateur radios and bought my own chemicals and equipment (for experiments) even when I was young," he remembered.

Cotton received his undergraduate degree from Temple University in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1955. He is a member of the ACS inorganic division.
The ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry is sponsored by the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation.

American Chemical Society

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