Lexington, Mass., chemist wins national award for techniques to make new molecules

August 22, 2003

Dietmar Seyferth of Lexington, Mass., will be honored Sept. 9 by the world's largest scientific society for exploring new ways to make the building blocks of everyday materials. He will receive the 2003 Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New York.

Seyferth has spent five decades studying compounds that contain both carbon -- the major component of organic materials from proteins to petroleum -- and atoms of reactive metals. These unique combinations ultimately become plastics, pharmaceuticals and other products.

"We use organometallic compounds as carriers, transferring organic groups attached with the carbon-metal bond to synthesize molecules that often can't be achieved in other ways," said Seyferth, who is professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His discoveries range from a method to make vinyllithium, which chemists can use to make complicated compounds such as drugs, to acyllithiums, the building blocks for adhesives, paint additives and many other materials.

Seyferth's influence extends beyond his research. From 1963 to 1981, he was regional editor of the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, and in 1982, he became the founding editor of the ACS journal Organometallics, which quickly became the leading journal in the field. He describes his role as the "gatekeeper of organometallics," a pivotal figure who sets research standards for the field and ensures that the work of his colleagues meet them.

The chemist has left active research and now devotes his full time to the journals. "My fun activity now is writing historical essays and publishing them in Organometallics," he said.

A native of Germany who moved to the United States with his family at age four, Seyferth is a third-generation chemist. "So when it came time to decide what to do, I was interested in a lot of things -- Freud and Jung had made psychology very big -- but chemistry seemed natural," he said.

Seyferth received his undergraduate degree from the University of Buffalo in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1955. He is a member of the ACS division of inorganic chemistry.

The ACS Board of Directors established the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards in 1984 to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry. Cope himself was a celebrated organic chemist and ACS president. Each award consists of a $5,000 prize as well as an unrestricted research grant of $40,000.

American Chemical Society

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