University of Utah chemistry professor Peter Stang has earned one of the nation's highest honors for a scientist as the American Chemical Society (ACS) awarded him the 2013 Priestley Medal in recognition of his lifetime achievements in organic chemistry.
The society, the world's largest scientific group, with 164,000 members, highlighted Stang's advances in "supramolecular chemistry," which involves the spontaneous formation of large, complex molecules from pre-designed, simple molecules that Stang compares with building blocks in a Lego toy set. A 43-year faculty member, Stang draws inspiration from Utah's Bryce Canyon in his efforts to understand how organic molecules assemble themselves.
"Nature uses self-assembly because it's a very efficient way to build the molecules that are essential for living organisms," he said in a video about his research. "I make small molecules so the pieces recognize each other and come together the right way to make much more complex molecules."
These molecules could lead to targeted drug delivery and improved oil refining, among other technological advances.
"I am exceedingly proud of Peter, and this is a fitting tribute to his lifelong dedication to chemistry," said U. President David Pershing, a long-time chemical engineer at the university, in a statement. "He is absolutely committed to the highest research standards and the best education for his students."
Only a few months ago, President Barack Obama awarded Stang the National Medal of Science. The Priestley medal was established in 1922 in honor of 18th-century theologian Joseph Priestley, the scientist who discovered the element oxygen. It is regarded as the highest honor for U.S. chemists.
At least seven Priestley winners in the past 40 years have also won Nobel Prizes. The current Priestley honoree is MIT's Robert Langer, a nanotechnology pioneer, while the U.'s Henry Eyring won the honor in 1975.
This year, the ASC also inducted Stang and U. department chairman Henry White as fellows. Stang credited his students and post-doctorate students who actually carried out his experiments over the years.
"This award also indicates that it is possible to do cutting-edge, world-class research at the University of Utah," he said.
Stang served as dean of the College of Science and since 2002 has been editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. His staff of seven processes more than 12,000 research manuscripts a year.
Stang, 70, is a German-born Hungarian whose family fled their homeland for the United States during the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962.