Dr. Marcetta Y. Darensbourg, distinguished professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive the 2019 Willard Gibbs Award, presented by the American Chemical Society Chicago Section to recognize exceptional individuals whose pioneering work has opened new fields of chemical research.
Darensbourg, an internationally respected expert in synthetic and mechanistic inorganic chemistry and member of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty since 1982, is the 108th recipient of the award, revered as one of the most prestigious prizes in the field of chemistry. It was founded in 1910 by William A. Converse, a former chairman and secretary of the ACS Chicago Section, and medalists are selected by a national jury of eminent chemists from different disciplines. Nominees must be chemists who, because of the preeminence of their work in and contribution to pure or applied chemistry, are deemed worthy of special recognition.
Darensbourg is being honored for her groundbreaking work in biology-inspired chemistry — efforts that opened up a new field of bioinorganic chemistry known as bioorganometallic chemistry of hydrogenases. As a global leader in developing methods to enable sustainable hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology, her laboratory specializes in a novel approach of using Earth-abundant elements — iron, nickel and sulfur — to synthesize hydrogen-producing molecular catalysts intended to replace extremely expensive platinum as the kick-starter in these fuel cells.
“Marcetta Darensbourg is a chief architect of modern bioinorganic chemistry,” said Dr. François P. Gabbaï, a fellow Texas A&M inorganic chemist and holder of the Arthur E. Martell Endowed Chair in Chemistry. “She has, throughout her career, kept an eye on the roles that metals play in living organisms and has consistently asked how small molecules made in the laboratory could emulate the structures and functions of metals in biological systems. Her persistence with this line of inquiries has helped define biomimetism as a new school of thought and one that has inspired many of her peers. Her leading position has also drawn new talents to bioinorganic chemistry, elevating this field to the level of popularity and importance it enjoys today.”
Darensbourg will be formally recognized later this spring at the 108th J. Willard Gibbs Award Dinner, where she will deliver an invited lecture and be presented with an 18-carat gold medal featuring the bust of the award’s namesake, Yale University mathematical physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs, whose formulation of the Phase Rule founded a new science. Gibbs is considered by many to be the only American-born scientist whose discoveries are as fundamental in nature as those of Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo. The award was first presented in 1911, and its previous recipients include Marie Curie (1921), Gilbert N. Lewis (1924), Linus Pauling (1946), Glenn T. Seaborg (1966) and legendary Texas A&M chemist F. Albert Cotton (1980), the only other Texas A&M recipient besides Darensbourg.
“Marcetta’s work has served to prime the notion that the synthesis of base metal, hydrogen-processing catalysts may ultimately replace platinum in fuel cell electrodes,” Gabbaï added. “This work is far-reaching and has inspired a generation of scientists who have built on her pioneering progress in this area of chemistry. The fact that Marie Curie was the first woman to receive the Gibbs Medal properly sets the tone.”
A native of Kentucky, Darensbourg was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017 and honored in 2018 as Texas A&M’s first-ever Southeastern Conference Professor of the Year. She is an inaugural fellow of the American Chemical Society (2009) as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2014) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), one the country’s oldest and most prestigious honorary learned societies.
Darensbourg earned her doctorate in inorganic chemistry at the University of Illinois in 1967 and held faculty appointments at Vassar College (1967-69), State University of New York, Buffalo (1969-71) and Tulane University (1971-82) prior to beginning her independent career at Texas A&M, where was appointed a distinguished professor of chemistry in 2010 and as a Davidson Professor of Science in 2017.
Although she was trained as an organometallic chemist with earlier research programs in transition metals, Darensbourg began exploring the inorganic biocatalysts within hydrogen-controlling microorganisms for use in clean-energy initiatives more than two decades ago. A pioneer in many areas of chemistry, she became the first-ever female recipient in 1995 of the ACS Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry Award, the society’s top annual honor for inorganic accomplishment. In addition, she earned the 2017 ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry recognizing impact in that field as well as the 2013 Fred Basolo Medal for Outstanding Research in Inorganic Chemistry, also presented by the ACS Chicago Section.
Darensbourg has authored more than 250 refereed papers, co-edited two specialty chemistry books, co-authored a freshman chemistry textbook and given plenary lectures at several prestigious international conferences. In addition to teaching courses in organometallic and inorganic chemistry, she has directed the dissertations of more than 50 students during her almost four-decade Texas A&M career. Darensbourg has received nearly every teaching and student mentoring award offered by the university, including Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards in three separate categories: Teaching (1986); Research (1995) and Graduate Mentoring (2012). Her many career honors also include the ACS Southwest Region Award (1998) and the Distinguished Scientist Award for 2011 from the Texas A&M chapter of Sigma Xi.
Darensbourg is active in professional bodies beyond the ACS, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and advisory panels for the Petroleum Research Fund and National Academy of Sciences. She currently serves on the editorial boards for Inorganic Chemistry, Inorganic Syntheses and Chemical Communications and is editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To learn more about Darensbourg and her research, visit the M.Y. Darensbourg Research Laboratories website.
Find additional information about the Gibbs Award, including the list of previous recipients.
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Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Marcetta Y. Darensbourg, (979) 845-5417 or email@example.com