Darensbourg, an organometallic/inorganic chemist and 40-year member of the Texas A&M faculty prior to his May 2021 retirement, is among the 120 new members and 30 foreign associates announced Tuesday (May 3) by the Academy on the final day of its 159th Annual Meeting in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Election to Academy membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive.
The 2022 election brings the total number of active members to 2,512 and the total number of international members to 517. International members are nonvoting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States.
“Dr. Darensbourg’s work led to practical applications that made medical and dental care safer and more reliable for people around the world,” said Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks. “This, plus his love of teaching and mentoring during his 40-year career here, reflect our bottom line of improving lives in all that we do in teaching, research, and service.”
Darensbourg has been a member of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty since 1982 and was appointed as a distinguished professor of chemistry in 2010. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019) and the American Chemical Society (2017), he is a noted expert in the mechanisms of organometallic reactions — in particular, carbon dioxide insertion into hydrogen-, carbon- and oxygen-metal bonds — for which he previously was recognized with the 2010 ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry. His work has led to the synthesis of biodegradable polymers for use in medical devices, including surgical sutures, internal fixation devices for repair of fractures to small bones, drug-delivery devices and dental implants.
“Carbon dioxide chemistry has been a continuous theme over most of Don’s career, and his efforts have led to exciting applications that have attracted the attention of a host of international research teams,” said 2017 National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Christopher C. Cummins, Henry Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 2016-2017 Faculty Fellow of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study at Texas A&M. “From this platform in basic science, Don developed approaches to the utilization of carbon dioxide in environmentally benign or green chemistry, which has had a tremendous impact on the development of synthetic biodegradable polymers. He also pioneered the use of novel, water-soluble, air-stable ligands in catalytic reactions in biphasic media, demonstrating that it is possible to bring such catalysts into aqueous environments and to use them successfully for catalytic processes.”
Darensbourg is the most recent faculty member to earn the prestigious accolade while at Texas A&M since fellow Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Dr. Karen L. Wooley was elected in 2020. Other Academy members among the current Texas A&M faculty include Dr. Leif Andersson (2012), Dr. Marcetta Y. Darensbourg (2017), Dr. Ronald A. DeVore (2017), Dr. Dudley R. Herschbach (1967), Dr. Roger E. Howe (1994), Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt Jr. (2006), Dr. David M. Lee (1991), Dr. Darwin Prockop (1991), Dr. Peter Rentzepis (1978), Dr. Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe (2010), Dr. Marlan O. Scully (2001), Dr. Patrick J. Stover (2016) and Dr. James E. Womack (1999), along with emeritus professors Dr. Perry Adkisson (1979) and Dr. Max D. Summers (1989). Of those Texas A&M 17, eight (Adkisson, D. Darensbourg, M. Darensbourg, DeVore, Scully, Summers, Womack and Wooley) were elected during their time at Texas A&M.
“I am thrilled with Don’s appointment to the National Academy,” said Texas A&M Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Timothy P. Scott ’89. “He is among the very best scholars at Texas A&M, and now, we have proof he rates among the very best in the nation. While Don’s scholarship speaks for itself, I appreciate his human side that I encounter almost daily at a coffee shop, meeting with the graduate students, postdocs and young faculty he actively mentors.”
Darensbourg’s research funded by the National Science Foundation and The Welch Foundation spans transition and main-group metals, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis — including polymerization and biphasic processes — and applications of infrared spectroscopy. To date, he has 436 scholarly publications to his credit, many of which are featured in the most highly ranked international journals in the field, such as the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie and Macromolecules.
“It is wonderful to see Don recognized for his numerous outstanding research contributions, which were visionary and have led to many exciting applications,” said Dr. Simon W. North, John W. Bevan Professor of Chemistry and head of Texas A&M Chemistry. “We celebrate this accomplishment and his impact on the field of chemistry, but we are especially delighted that we celebrate such a thoughtful, supportive and unselfish colleague who has made an indelible contribution to the department and the university.”
For four decades, Darensbourg has shared laboratory space in the Texas A&M Chemistry Building with his wife and fellow chemist Dr. Marcetta Y. Darensbourg. The two also share the distinction of being the first distinguished professor couple in Texas A&M history. Although National Academy of Sciences officials say their membership includes several married couples, the Darensbourgs are a novelty in that regard in Aggieland, which with Tuesday’s news now features its first-ever National Academy-level professor couple.
“The wonderful news of Don’s election to the National Academy of Sciences reached us the day before my milestone birthday — just the best birthday present ever!” said Marcetta Darensbourg.
Among colleagues and students alike, Darensbourg is known for a central approach to problem-solving and education in general that always focuses on the positive. His excellence in classroom and laboratory teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels has been recognized with Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards in both Teaching (1988) and Research (1990) as well as the 2016 Texas A&M College of Science Undergraduate Mentoring Award. Most recently, Darensbourg and his student, Tucker Folsom ’19, earned the 2019 ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Award for Undergraduate Research recognizing the collaborative work of an outstanding undergraduate student/preceptor team in the field of inorganic chemistry.
“It is wonderful that Dr. Darensbourg has received this honor,” said Dr. Valen E. Johnson, dean of the College of Science and a distinguished professor of statistics. “Not only is he a preeminent researcher, but he has also been an outstanding teacher and mentor, both for undergraduate and graduate students.”
In recent years, Darensbourg also developed a course in green chemistry for upper division Texas A&M undergraduate students in chemistry and chemical engineering that has enjoyed tremendous success, attracting students from chemistry as well as engineering. In addition to teaching future scientists how to practice chemistry in a manner that is environmentally safe, the course helps them become more aware of the environmental dangers posed by chemistry.
“Don is an incredible, inspirational colleague and one of the most genuine and kindest people I’ve ever encountered,” said 2020 National Academy of Sciences member and fellow Texas A&M chemist Dr. Karen L. Wooley. “He has been decades ahead of the current recognition of the need for green, sustainable strategies to address climate change and plastics pollution. His innovative ideas and rigorous mechanistic chemical understanding have led to his development of catalysts that are able to transform carbon dioxide into degradable polycarbonate materials. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with him over the past several years, during which his approaches, attention and style have continually impressed upon me how to be an effective educator and mentor.”
A past member of five editorial boards, Darensbourg consistently is called upon to serve on advisory and review teams and to lecture at conferences and research institutions all around the world. His ACS service alone includes past treasurer of the Division of Inorganic Chemistry and a former member of the Committee on Professional Training.
Originally from Baton Rouge, La., Darensbourg earned his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1968. Prior to coming to Texas A&M in 1982, he held faculty appointments at both State University of New York, Buffalo (1969-1973) and Tulane University (1973-1982).
To learn more about Darensbourg and his research, teaching and service, go to https://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/djd/.
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About the National Academy of Sciences: The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. To learn more, visit https://www.nasonline.org/.
About Texas A&M University: Texas A&M University is a community of scholars dedicated to solving diverse, real-world problems through determination and innovation. Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876 as the state’s first public institution of higher education and is today a tier-one research institution holding the elite triple land-, sea- and space-grant designations. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of almost $1 billion in fiscal year 2020. Texas A&M’s 73,000 students and more than half a million former students are known for their commitment to service, as well as dedication to the university’s core values and rich traditions.