BY JIM GRAHAM
on an airplane sink into their seats, and then into their books. Or
work. Or idle conversation. Most people do not spend a lot of time
looking out the window, and if they do theyre generally not thinking
about much of anything (unless they happen to be nervous fliers).
But Dr. Alan G. MacDiarmidBlanchard Professor of Chemistry at Penn,
father of conducting polymers, 2000 Nobel laureateis not most people.
Every time MacDiarmid travels by air, he gazes into the hinterlands
of 30,000 feet above-sea-level. For years he has been trying to figure
out how those fluffy cumulus clouds can appear to have sharply-defined
edges if theyre made up of free-floating vapor.
his eighth decade, long after most of us have learned all we ever
will (or want to), MacDiarmid is still a little boy full of questions,
his youthful mind a great, insatiable sponge. He delights in being
stumped by an offbeat query from one of his chemistry students,
and then searching for the answer. He keeps a notebook by his bed
to record the nocturnal inspirations that race from his vigorous
psyche. He teaches himself Mandarin Chinese and cell biology, both
for the sake of his research.
Salaneck, professor of surface physics and chemistry at Link–ping
University in Sweden, who nominated MacDiarmid for the 2000 Nobel
Prize in Chemistry, cites his tremendous chemical intuition to
explain how MacDiarmid personifies the unique spirit Alfred Nobel
called for in his last will and testament in setting up the prize
to recognize those who have bestowed the greatest benefit on mankind.
former graduate student Dr. Xun Tang, now a project leader at Rohm
and Haas Company in Spring House, Pennsylvania, says, He asks questions
others wouldnt ask. He pays attention to phenomena that others
would have slept through. Like billowy clouds during airplane rides.
And silvery glop that most people would summarily discard.