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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry hosts Kosolapoff Award Lecture

Published: 03/09/2018

By: Candis Birchfield

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Auburn Section of the American Chemical Society named Marcetta Y. Darensbourg, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, the recipient of the 2018 Kosolapoff Award. Darensbourg’s research is in the area of organometallic chemistry, and her lecture was titled, “Old Biology Inspires New Chemistry: The Hydrogen Economy from Pond Silt to Photovoltaic/Fuel Cells.”

Named in honor of Professor G. M. Kosolapoff, an Auburn Chemistry professor who was renowned for his teaching, the Kosolapoff award lectures bring outstanding chemists to speak each year on topical areas in chemistry that would be of wide interest to the general public. Of the 31 award winners to date, 12 have been Nobel laureates.

Darensbourg was born and raised by her schoolteacher parents in the small hamlet of Artemus, Kentucky, on the banks of the Cumberland River. As did her parents, she graduated from Union College in nearby Barbourville, Kentucky. Encouraged by her professors, she pursued graduate studies in inorganic chemistry at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, receiving a doctorate under the mentorship of Professor Theodore L. Brown.

Her first appointments were short-term lectureships at Vassar College and SUNY Buffalo. In 1971, she was appointed assistant professor at Tulane University where she rose through the ranks, moving to Texas A&M as a full professor in 1982.

Darensbourg holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and lectures undergraduate and graduate courses devoted to inorganic and organometallic chemistry.

Her research trajectory has mirrored developments in transition metal organometallic chemistry, specifically in the synthesis and characterization of carbon monoxide-stabilized, electron-rich metal hydrides, and mechanisms of hydride transfer to organic substrates. Intrigued by the possibility of metal hydrides in nature, specifically in the active sites of the hydrogenases, she directed efforts towards biomimetics of those sites and towards using the tools of organometallic chemistry to link the synthetic analogues with the natural hydrogen processing biocatalysts. Other metalloenzyme active sites that perform carbon-carbon coupling processes add additional inspiration for research into nature's design for eliciting catalysis by earth abundant metals in cases where the chemical industry relies on rare and expensive noble metals. Her research has resulted in more than 250 peer-reviewed publications, as well as multiple awards including the American Chemical Society's Award in Organometallic Chemistry (2017) and the American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry (1996). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2017) and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the American Chemical Society. She has mentored more than 50 doctoral students.

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