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Nobel Prize Winning Connections
Chemistry Alumnus Receives Top Science Honor
The trio was cited specifically for “the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.” Metathesis is an organic reaction in which chemists selectively strip out certain atoms in a compound and replace them with atoms that were previously part of another compound. The end result is a custom-built molecule that has specialized properties, which can lead to better drugs for the treatment of disease or better electrical conducting properties for specialized plastics, for example.
In particular, Grubbs has worked on olefin metathesis. Prior to his work, metathesis was poorly understood and of limited value to scientists. Grubbs developed powerful new catalysts for metathesis that enabled custom synthesis of valuable molecules, such as pharmaceuticals and new polymers with novel materials properties.
Grubbs earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from UF in 1963 and 1965, respectively. As a UF student working in an animal nutrition lab, Grubbs was convinced by a friend to work with Chemistry Professor Merle Battiste. To Grubbs’ surprise, he enjoyed working in a chemistry lab. “For the first time in my life, I had found something I liked and was actually good at,” says Grubbs. “Being in the lab, and the immediacy of producing results from an experiment thrilled me, and Dr. Battiste was outstanding. He really pushed me to learn and do all I could at UF.”
Battiste, who is now a professor emeritus of chemistry, became Grubbs’ advisor, and Battiste attended the Stockholm ceremony in December at Grubbs’ request. “UF represents a great time in my life,” says Grubbs. “I had the chance to explore so many different areas and found someone so supportive of me. Once I started studying chemistry, because it was something I was actually interested in, my life improved dramatically.”
After completing his PhD in chemistry at Columbia University, Grubbs spent a year at Stanford University as a postdoctoral fellow and then joined the Michigan State University faculty in 1969. He has taught at Caltech since 1978.
Another UF connection to a Nobel Prize was the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, partially awarded to Roy Glauber, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard University “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence.” UF Physics and Mathematics Professor John Klauder helped to work out the mathematical theory of this phenomenon and co-authored the book Fundamentals of Quantum Optics, considered a classic in the field, in 1968.
met Glauber many times over the years,” says Klauder. “Since
Glauber’s original work was done more than 40 years ago, I must
admit I was surprised that he received the award now. Naturally, I am
pleased for him and for the recognition that this award brings to the
field of quantum optics.”