Chemist who pioneered understanding of boron chemistry wins ACS Priestley medal

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2009 — M. Frederick Hawthorne, Ph.D., director of the International Institute of Nano & Molecular Medicine at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and longtime editor-in-chief of Inorganic Chemistry, will receive the 2009 Priestley Medal at the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) 237th National Meeting in Salt Lake City on March 24. The annual award, which consists of a gold medallion, will recognize Hawthorne’s work in areas as varied as medical imaging, drug delivery, neutron-based radiation treatments for cancers and rheumatoid arthritis, catalysis, and nanotechnology. The award is the highest honor bestowed by ACS.

"I'm tickled to death to receive this recognition," Hawthorne, age 79, told Chemical and Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine. "I am very lucky to have been at the right place at the right time to begin work on clarifying the chemistry of boron, one of the most versatile elements."

"The Priestley is a wonderful award to recognize one of the giants of inorganic chemistry," says the University of Rochester's Richard S. Eisenberg, who succeeded Hawthorne as editor-in-chief of Inorganic Chemistry in 2001. It's rare for a chemist to create a field of research and excel in it the way Hawthorne has done with boron, Eisenberg says. On top of that, he did it while spending 32 years guiding Inorganic Chemistry to become a premier international journal, Eisenberg adds.

Hawthorne, a native of Kansas, completed his undergraduate education in 1949 at Pomona College, in Claremont, Calif., and earned a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry in 1953 from the University of California, Los Angeles. He began to synthesize and study polyhedral borane clusters such as B12H122– in 1956 while working at Rohm and Haas. Back then, no one knew much about boron chemistry, Hawthorne says. He assumed that it should be possible to do anything with boron that could already be done with its next-door neighbor, carbon. And the assumption paid off.

The accomplishment Hawthorne is most excited about is the creation of nontoxic carborane-containing liposomes that selectively target cancer cells for destruction by boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT). "It's been a long road," Hawthorne admits, but he thinks he is finally on the verge of seeing his life's work come to full fruition. Hawthorne expects to start BNCT animal trials in October and human trials within the next five years. He believes carboranes will eventually be ubiquitous in pharmaceuticals.

The Priestley Medal is an annual award named for Joseph Priestley, who reported the discovery of oxygen in 1774. Since 1923, the ACS has recognized groundbreaking chemists with the award. The first Priestley Medal went to Ira Remsen, the chemist credited with bringing laboratory research to American universities.


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