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,
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
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
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.