October 17, 2000
Volume 47
Number 8


CLICK HERE for more on the Nobel Laureate, Alan MacDiarmid.

A Scientific Jackpot: The Nobel Prize for Penn Trio

 Toasting A Chemist and A Gentleman

"A Penn Nobel Prize,"... "based on great applied and basic science," is how Roy Vagelos described the accomplishment of "one of our best teachers and researchers."

"It's an understatement that we've been waiting for this day," proclaimed Hai-Lung Dai who sensed that a Nobel would come to Dr. MacDairmid.

"A deliriously happy University" ... "a validation of the extraordinary faculty we have," said President Rodin, adding, "you represent the best among us."

SAS Dean Sam Preston toasted Dr. MacDiarmid's "enthusiasm, originality, and loyalty."

Dr. MacDiarmid said the award is "far-reaching worldwide recognition of interdisciplinary research in the new century."

A true scientist, he concluded, "research is fun."

 For Penn Nobel Laureates,
See the list on the University Archives website

  Dr. Alan G. MacDiarmid, Blanchard Professor of Chemistry, is one of three recipients of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Sharing the honor are former Penn professor Dr. Alan J. Heeger, now at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Dr. Hideki Shirakawa, of the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

The work underlying the award--which showed that plastics can be made to conduct electricity--was carried out at Penn in the late 1970s, when Drs. MacDiarmid and Heeger were both on the Penn faculty. Dr. Shirakawa came to Penn on a post-doc fellowship as a visiting research scholar to collaborate with them.

The holder of some 30 U.S. patents, Dr. MacDiarmid has been at Penn since 1955. Dr. Heeger was a physicist here from 1962 to 1982 and directed LRSM from 1974 to 1981.

"This is indeed a moment for great joy and celebration, as we join the Nobel committee in acknowledging the achievements of an outstanding researcher and faculty member," said President Judith Rodin. "This pathbreaking research into 'conducting polymers,' that is, plastics that can conduct electricity, introduced a new and completely unexpected phenomenon to the fields of chemistry and physics and has unleashed a flood of interdisciplinary studies which have continued unabated to this day.

"Alan MacDiarmid is a truly extraordinary scientist and we offer him and his colleagues our deepest and most heartfelt congratulations."

The Nobel Prize honors the trio's 1977 discovery that plastics, or polymers, can be made to conduct electricity much like metals. This finding turned on its head the conventional wisdom that polymers could not conduct electricity, and unleashed a flurry of new research among physicists, chemists and materials scientists worldwide.

Polymers are molecular chains with a regularly repeating structure. For a polymer to conduct electric current, it must consist alternately of single and double bonds between the carbon atoms. It must also be "doped," which means that electrons are removed (through oxidation) or introduced (through reduction). These "holes," or extra electrons, can move along the molecule, making it electrically conductive.

Drs. MacDiarmid, Heeger, and Shirakawa were responsible for the 1977 synthesis and the electrical and chemical doping of polyacetylene, the prototypical conducting polymer, and the rediscovery of polyaniline, now the foremost industrial conducting polymer. They have subsequently developed conductive polymers into a research field of great importance for chemists as well as physicists. The area has also yielded important practical applications. Conductive plastics are used in, or are being developed industrially for anti-static substances for photographic film, shields for computer screens against electromagnetic radiation and for "smart" windows that can exclude sunlight. In addition, semi-conductive polymers have recently been developed in light-emitting diodes (LEDs), solar cells and as displays in mobile telephones and mini-format television screens.

Research on conductive polymers has also fueled the rapid development of molecular electronics. In the future scientists may be able to produce transistors and other electronic components consisting of individual molecules, dramatically increasing the speed and reducing the size of computers: a computer corresponding to the laptops we now carry around would suddenly fit inside a wristwatch.

Born in Masterton, New Zealand, Dr. MacDiarmid is author or co-author of more than 600 research papers. He holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. from the University of New Zealand and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Cambridge in England.

Provost Robert Barchi, Dean Sam Preston, Nobelist Alan MacDiarmid, President Judith Rodin, Former Chairman of the University Trustees Roy Vagelos and Chemistry Chairman Hai-Lung Dai share Dr. MacDiarmid's pride and joy of winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 8, October 17, 2000

| FRONT PAGE | CONTENTS | JOB-OPS | CRIMESTATS | Nobel Prize 2000 | COUNCIL: State of the University 2000-2001 (Part Two, Barchi) | TALK ABOUT TEACHING ARCHIVE | BETWEEN ISSUES | OCTOBER at PENN |