Popular Science columnist earns prestigious American Chemical Society award

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2011 — Theodore W. Gray, a best-selling author and eclectic science writer, is the 2011 recipient of the American Chemical Society’s prestigious James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public. Gray will receive the award in Anaheim, Calif., on March 29 during the Society’s 241st National Meeting and Exposition.

A software developer and science writer with a background in chemistry, Gray is perhaps best known for his monthly column, “Gray Matter,” in Popular Science magazine and as author of “The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe,” available in both print form and as a ground-breaking electronic book for the iPad. The Champaign, Illinois resident is also the author of “Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home ― But Probably Shouldn’t,” a collection of five years of Popular Science columns.

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“Theo Gray’s particular combination of talents ― writing, a flair for visual display, courage and wit, a feeling for what attracts young people ― all of these have combined with his love of chemistry to give our profession a wonderful popularizer,” said Roald Hoffmann, Ph.D., a Nobel Laureate in chemistry who also received the Grady-Stack Award.

Oliver Sacks, M.D., a best-selling author, and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, notes that Gray is “something of a showman, with a great talent for devising demonstrations of chemical transformations or physical principles ― demonstrations that are as dramatic as they are illuminating, and, above all, fun.”

That showmanship first drew national attention when Gray created his version of the periodic table ― an actual table he constructed to serve both as furniture and learning guide. For this effort, he was the winner of the 2002 Ig Nobel joke prize in chemistry, awarded by the Journal of Irreproducible Results. That same year, Gray began writing his Popular Science column, which is noted for its wide-ranging coverage of amateur science with a particular concentration on chemistry written for a lay audience.

In 1988, he cofounded Wolfram Research, the developer of the technical computing system Mathematica. Gray has written four books about the use of Mathematica and its relationship to education reform. His latest venture, a company called Touch Press, strives to use his approach to “The Elements” iPad application to electronic books, though not necessarily science books.

Gray earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and worked on his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, before starting his software company, Wolfram Research. He will be recognized during the 2011 ACS Awards Banquet Ceremony & General Meeting of the Society at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel on Tuesday, March 29.

The Grady-Stack Award is an annual award named for James T. Grady and James H. Stack, two former managers of the ACS News Service. Established in 1955, the award recognizes and stimulates outstanding reporting that promotes the public’s understanding of chemistry, chemical engineering and related fields. The award consists of $3,000, a gold medallion and a bronze replica.


Theodore W. Gray