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Tobin Marks Receives American Chemical Society’s Top Honor

Honored for ‘dedicated service to chemistry enterprise and pioneering research’
  • Priestley Medal has recognized pioneering chemists and accomplishments since 1923
  • Marks has had lasting impact on contemporary materials science, catalytic chemistry
  • Contributions include new processes and materials arising from multi-disciplinary innovation
  • Marks is the second Northwestern professor to receive the Priestley Medal

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Tobin J. Marks will receive the 2017 Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society (ACS) in recognition of his landmark research and dedicated service to the chemistry enterprise. It is the highest honor bestowed by the world’s largest scientific society.

Throughout his 45-year academic career, Marks has made major contributions in the field of materials chemical science -- specifically catalysts and catalytic processes, opto-electronic materials and organometallic chemistry. He has created new plastics, catalysts for environmentally benign chemical transformations and efficient plastic solar cells, as well as printable transistors and organic light-emitting diodes that are faster, more energy efficient and more versatile.

“I am deeply honored to receive this most important recognition from the American Chemical Society and likewise am deeply honored to join the ranks of all the previous Priestley medalists,” Marks said. “I thank all of my students and colleagues, past and present, for their invaluable contributions.”

Marks is the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Professor of Applied Physics.

Marks is only the second professor at Northwestern to receive this top honor. The late Fred Basolo was honored with the Priestley Medal in 2001.

The ACS is recognizing Marks specifically for his “dedicated service to the chemistry enterprise and pioneering research in catalytic polymerization, organometallic chemistry, organic opto-electronic materials and electronically functional metal oxides.” He will receive the award in April at the society’s 253rd National Meeting and Exposition in San Francisco.

“Few practicing scientists have more effectively bridged homogeneous and heterogeneous catalytic sciences, demonstrating exceptional originality, breadth and insights, than Tobin Marks,” said Gabor A. Somorjai, chemistry professor at University of California, Berkeley. “His contributions are broad: producing new processes through chemical innovation, mentoring students and promoting the chemistry community.”

Marks is “a true giant in the field of chemistry,” said Richard N. Zare, chemistry professor at Stanford University, in a recent Chemical & Engineering News article. “I believe his research has had a major impact in important areas of contemporary materials chemical science.”

Marks’ landmark research is documented in 1,200 peer-reviewed publications and 234 U.S. patents. He has mentored and trained many graduate students, and he has tirelessly served the ACS and international science societies. Marks partnered with Dow Chemical to develop world-scale multi-billion-dollar olefin polymerization processes and co-founded the startup Polyera Corp. to produce printed electronics.

Marks has received numerous awards for his research, including the U.S. National Medal of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences, the Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences, the Spanish Prince of Asturias Prize, the German Karl Ziegler Prize and many other European and Asian awards, recognitions and honorary degrees.

Other ACS honors include the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry, the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry, the ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials, the ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry, the ACS Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis, the ACS Arthur Cope Senior Scholar Award in Organic Chemistry, the ACS Gibbs, Nichols, Pauling and Richards medals, and a number of other ACS awards. 

Since 1923, the ACS has recognized groundbreaking chemists with the Priestley Medal. The annual award includes a gold medallion commemorating the work of Joseph Priestley, who lived from 1733 to 1804, and is best remembered for his 1774 discovery of the gas that would later be named “oxygen.”