July 22, 2012 – Only months after collecting a National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama, University of Utah organic chemist Peter J. Stang has won the highest honor from the world’s largest scientific group: the 2013 Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society.
The medal – basically a lifetime achievement award for chemists – “recognizes Stang’s cutting-edge research that has had far-reaching implications for many areas of science, including drug development and more efficient ways to produce gasoline and home heating oil,” the 164,000-member society said in announcing the honor.
“I am truly delighted and honored to receive this most prestigious American Chemical Society Award,” says Stang, 70, a distinguished professor of chemistry whose family fled Hungary when he was a teenager after the Communist takeover in 1956. “It is humbling to be listed among the distinguished previous recipients.”
“Of course, much of the credit belongs to my able and dedicated undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral co-workers, who actually carried out the experimental work over my 43-year career at Utah,” he adds. “This award also indicates that it is possible to do cutting-edge, world-class research at the University of Utah.”
The gold Priestley Medal – first bestowed in 1922 – is named for chemist and theologian Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), whose discovery of oxygen in 1774 explained why and how things burn, and that air was made of a mixture of gases. Priestley also invented carbonated water and the rubber eraser. His unorthodox religious writings and support for the American and French revolutions forced him to flee England for Pennsylvania in 1794.
Stang has served as editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society since 2002. He and a staff of seven process more than 12,000 research manuscripts a year.
Last year, President Obama honored Stang at the White House along with other winners of the National Medal of Science, the highest U.S. honor for a scientist or engineer.
University of Utah President David Pershing, a distinguished professor of chemical engineering, applauds Stang and his new honor.
“I am exceedingly proud of Peter, and this is a fitting tribute to his lifelong dedication to chemistry,” Pershing says. “He is absolutely committed to the highest research standards and the best education for his students.”
Stang says he is “grateful to the citizens of Utah for affording me the opportunity to educate and work with young people and be a member of the faculty of the University of Utah for over 40 years.”
In addition to the Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society also inducted Stang and Henry White as fellows of the society. White is a distinguished professor and chairman of chemistry at the University of Utah.
For the past 20 years, Stang has pioneered the field of “supramolecular chemistry,” which involves the spontaneous formation of large, complex molecules from predesigned, simple molecules that Stang compares with building blocks in a Lego toy set.
“The molecules could have uses as drug-delivery vehicles and as key players in making oil refining faster and more efficient,” the American Chemical Society says.
Stang adds: “Although at the moment this is just fundamental research, it will have major impact on nanotechnology as well as biomedicine. It might enable targeted drug delivery that will make modern drugs more effective and minimize undesirable side effects.”
Stang earned his chemistry Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, did postdoctoral research at Princeton University, and joined the University of Utah faculty in 1969. He chaired the Department of Chemistry during 1989-1995, and then served as dean of the College of Science during 1997-2007.
In 2011, Stang was ranked 69th on a list of the world’s top 100 chemists, based on scientific impact scores of their published work. The list, compiled by Times Higher Education in Britain, put him in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of all chemists worldwide.
Stang previously won numerous other awards. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.
Stang’s mother was a German and his father a Hungarian, and the couple met in Paris. Stang was born in Nuremberg, Germany, but lived in Hungary through his first year in high school.
When Stang was 15, he, his parents and his two sisters fled Hungary in 1956, just days after the Soviet Union sent tanks into the country to suppress the Hungarian uprising. The family moved to Chicago. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1962.
A three-minute video about Stang’s research, produced when he won the National Medal of Science, may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJKkq8THaU4