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Cowley Honored for Advancing Inorganic Chemistry

Cowley Honored for Advancing Inorganic Chemistry
Alan H. Cowley, the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, is being recognized for his nearly 50 years of contributions to the field of inorganic chemistry.
Alan H. Cowley, the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, is being recognized for his nearly 50 years of contributions to the field of inorganic chemistry. He will receive the award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement Of Inorganic Chemistry by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

He is a standout not just for his longevity, but also for a history of pioneering studies in main-group-element chemistry, teaching and serving as an international science diplomat.

When Cowley started at the university in 1962, the emphasis in main-group chemistry was on high oxidation states and high coordination numbers, Cowley notes. Meanwhile, transition-metal organometallic chemistry started out the other way, with a focus on low oxidation states and low coordination numbers.

“So it seemed to me like a good idea to cross these two things over,” Cowley says. “I went off in the direction of low-oxidation, low-coordination-number main-group chemistry.”

And he has made the most of it. One overarching theme in Cowley’s research over the years has been to seek parallels between the chemistry of carbenes and carbocations and their analogs from periodic groups 13, 14 and 15. His early work involved synthesis of the first three-membered phosphorus ring and the first four-membered arsenic ring. He discovered that phosphinidenes can bind to transition metals, forming double and triple phosphorus-to-metal bonds. His group discovered similar properties for the related phosphenium and arsenium ions.

As a professor, he has kept his hand in the critical job of teaching freshman chemistry. He is affectionately called “godfather” for helping establish two generations of successful research chemists. In addition, Cowley has organized several Gordon Research Conferences, including the first one on science education in 1992, and served as a member and chair of the board of trustees of the Gordon Research Conferences. Internationally, he has helped facilitate chemistry developments in several countries, in particular in Mexico and in Chile.

At age 75, with nearly 500 research papers and numerous awards and other accolades behind him, Cowley simply says that “chemistry is my hobby” and that he has several new projects under way.

This article originally appeared in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society.
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Tuesday, 21 September 2021

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