From American Chemical Society
Berkeley chemist wins national award for inventiveness in laboratory
T. Don Tilley of Berkeley, Calif., will be honored April 9 by the world's largest scientific society for inventing new ways to make chemicals — from the exotic, such as flexible semiconductors for electronic devices, to basic building blocks in the chemical industry. He will receive the 2002 Award in Organometallic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Orlando, Fla.
"We're interested in learning how to activate the bonds within molecules in new ways that allow new kinds of chemical reactions," said Tilley, an organometallic chemist at the University of California, Berkeley.
One way to increase a molecule's reactivity is by incorporating metal atoms — magnesium, for example, pops and sparks when exposed to water. The trick is directing that reactivity in a controlled fashion.
Tilley and his research team in particular study new ways to make polymers — materials such as plastics — that have metals such as silicon knitted into the backbone of their characteristic long chains. They hope to improve on the properties of semiconductor silicon, the current stuff of computer chips.
"This is a whole new class of materials which we call polysilenes," he said. "They can make ‘soft' semiconductors that are lighter weight and more flexible than silicon alone. And with polysilenes you have the possibility of modifying the structure to develop new properties."
His group also explores ways to activate methane, the main component of natural gas. It oxidizes, or burns, efficiently but otherwise is chemically inert. Making it more reactive could bring to market a cheap, readily available building block for anything from plastics to pharmaceuticals.
Tilley said he started off college as a math major but ultimately chose chemistry because he "found it exciting, rewarding," he explained. "And I like working with people, my students among them."
Tilley received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1977 and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982. He is chairman-elect of the ACS division of inorganic chemistry.
The ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry is sponsored by Dow Chemical Co.