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July 8, 2009

Chemistry Professor Richard Zare named Priestley Medalist for lifetime contributions in chemistry

Richard N. Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, has been named the Priestley Medalist for 2010 by the American Chemical Society.

In announcing the annual award in Chemical and Engineering News, the society said the Priestley Medal is the highest honor the organization bestows, recognizing distinguished service to the field of chemistry. It is named after Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen in 1774.

Among Zare’s many contributions to the field of chemistry, he is known for his work in laser spectroscopy.

Zare developed a laser-induced fluorescence method that is widely used in chemistry laboratories. Laser-induced fluorescence is the process of studying molecules by exciting them with a laser and then measuring the light they emit. Zare’s work has led to a better understanding of chemical reactions at the molecular level, such as solving problems in chemical analysis.

“There is hardly anyone else, worldwide, who can lay claim to having contributed more to the field of physical chemistry, who has excelled in teaching, and who has been so active in service to the field of chemistry,” Gerald J. Diebold, a professor of chemistry at Brown University, was quoted as saying in the society’s announcement. Diebold worked with Zare as a postdoctoral researcher in the late 1970s.

Zare graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics in 1961 and a doctorate in chemical physics in 1964. He worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Colorado and Columbia University before coming to Stanford University in 1977. He was chair of the Chemistry Department in 2005 and was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in 2006.

Zare was a member of the National Science Board (the governing body of the National Science Foundation) from 1992 to 1998 and its chairman from 1996 to 1998. “He was enormously effective in that demanding role, taking on important thorny problems and working in partnership with the director to insure that NSF avoided political meddling and was able to move forward with good budgets and programs to support the nation’s best research ideas and best people to pursue them,” Neal Lane, who was National Science Foundation director when Zare was on the National Science Board, was quoted as saying in the society’s announcement.

Other Priestley Medalists who received the award while at Stanford include Henry Taube (1985) and Carl Djerassi (1992).



Louis Bergeron, News Service: (650) 725-1944,

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