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International Chemistry Awards Honor Tobin J. Marks

Royal Society of Chemistry, Italian Chemical Society recognize materials science

  • 2015 Derek Birchall Award winner for creativity in materials chemistry in industry
  • 2015 Luigi Sacconi Medal winner for ‘extraordinary’ results in inorganic chemistry
  • Research team recognized for work in bendable plastics used by business and consumers

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Tobin J. Marks, Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, has been recognized internationally by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Italian Chemical Society with awards honoring his work in inorganic chemistry and materials science.

“This is recognition of the work I did and my students did and my collaborators did,” Marks said of his 40-member research team of students, postdoctoral fellows and Northwestern faculty, “and that’s the most important thing.”

Marks was named the Materials for Industry -- Derek Birchall Award winner for 2015 by the Royal Society of Chemistry this month for his “creativity and excellence in the application of materials chemistry in industry.” Award winners are evaluated for the originality and impact of their research as well as the quality of the results that can be shown in publications, patents or even software. The award also recognizes the importance of teamwork across the chemical sciences and the abilities of individuals to develop successful collaborations. Based in the U.K., The Royal Society of Chemistry is a 170-year-old community with 53,000 members.

“The award is for my work in printed electronics, the printing of circuitry for a TV screen or laptop, just as you would print a newspaper,” Marks said. “The award also recognizes the company I founded, Polyera, Inc., now with more than 100 employees, that takes the technologies developed in my lab at Northwestern, along with theirs, and packages those materials for Kindles, laptop screens and more.” Marks attended a black-tie ceremony to accept the award May 11 in London.

Marks will be awarded the Luigi Sacconi Medal in Camerino, Italy, just south of Florence, in September when he will give a 90-minute lecture during the Italian Chemical Society conference on making materials for solar energy and the use of catalysis to make polymers, or plastics.

Marks explained how his work in the 1980s and 1990s with The Dow Chemical Company has led to the creation of an estimated 40 billion pounds of plastics, from automobile bumpers to artificial limbs. Marks said he was honored to receive the Sacconi medal, named for a legendary Italian chemist he met in the 1970s who was considered the “Who’s Who” in inorganic chemistry.

The Inorganic Chemistry Division of the Italian Chemical Society and the Luigi Sacconi Foundation every year awards the Luigi Sacconi Medal to a scientist who has obtained outstanding results in inorganic chemistry, a field in which Marks has made contributions of “extraordinary relevance.”

“We’re developing catalytic processes to turn biofeed stocks into useful chemicals, such as taking waste from wood pulp and paper and turning it into diesel fuel,” Marks said of his ongoing research. “We also are catalytically converting methane found in natural gas into ethylene, a valuable commodity chemical.” Other projects include developing new materials for more efficient solar cells and printing electronics for use in smart ID cards, TV displays and more.

Marks is a world leader in the fields of organometallic chemistry, chemical catalysis, materials science, organic electronics, photovoltaics and nanotechnology. He has developed processes for numerous types of recyclable, environmentally friendly plastics, efficient organic displays and transistor circuitry, and organic solar energy cells.

- Elizabeth Owens-Schiele, a writer for Northwestern News, contributed to this report.

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