Thompson and Christe Lauded by ACS

Mark Thompson and Karl Christe of chemistry are honored by the American Chemical Society for their research contributions — and going where others fear to tread.
ByLaura Paisley

Two USC Dornsife Department of Chemistry professors are set to receive awards from the American Chemical Society (ACS): Mark Thompson, the 2015 ACS Award in the Chemistry of Materials, and Karl Christe, the 2015 ACS Award for Creative Research and Applications of Iodine Chemistry.

Thompson and Christe will be presented their awards at the ACS national meeting in Denver in March 2015.

Thompson’s award recognizes and encourages creative work within materials chemistry. ACS also considered the nominee’s success as a mentor and colleague. The award carries a cash prize of $5,000.

Thompson is recognized for pioneering the discovery and development of molecular materials for displays, lighting and solar conversion, combining unique insights from molecular photophysics and synthetic chemistry.

The award recognizes Thompson’s extensive research in organic electronics that has guided the development of new materials. He and his team identified the key weakness in organic LEDs and created materials that eliminate this weakness, such as OLEDs — light-emitting diodes made of thin films of organic molecules — which feature multiple colors and ultra-high efficiencies. His team has also worked with organic solar cells, developing materials to achieve high-voltage and power efficiency.

“We have worked hard on finding the best materials for enhancing the efficiencies of organic LEDs and solar cells,” Thompson said. “Our work is like solving puzzles and we have plenty of puzzles left to go.  The list of previous recipients of this award is like a who’s who in my field and I am honored to be counted as a member of this list.”

Christe’s award aims to support, promote and motivate global research of iodine chemistry and develop real-world applications, such as use in medicine, catalysis, food and photography. The award carries a $10,000 cash prize.

“Karl has made outstanding contributions to iodine chemistry,” said Nobel Prize laureate George Olah, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry, who nominated Christe for the award. “I cannot think of a single individual who has discovered so many interesting, simple and novel iodine compounds and found important applications for them.”

Christe has made significant contributions to inorganic, high-oxidation state iodine chemistry. Iodine is the heaviest stable member of the halogen family and plays an important role in inorganic, organic and biochemistry. Christe discovered and characterized more than a dozen novel iodine fluoride and oxofluoride ions, and most interestingly the IF5 double anion which has an unprecedented pentagonal-planar structure. There are only two compounds known with such a structure and both were prepared by Christe.

He also solved some long-standing problems in fundamental chemistry, such as the fluxional behavior of iodine heptafluoride and the steric activity of the free electron pair in the halogen hexafluoride anions. This work greatly contributes to our understanding of structure and bonding in simple compounds and is frequently referred to in textbooks.

Recently, Christe’s group discovered the iodine heptoxide molecule, a compound described in textbooks as nonexistent. It has also pioneered the potential of iodine hexoxide as an agent to defeat weapons of mass destruction. Most of his iodine compounds are not only of academic interest but have many applications as high-energy density materials, explosives, propellants and chemical lasers.

“Personally, this award was unexpected and a very pleasant surprise because receiving three National ACS Awards in different fields is very rare,” said Christe, who won the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry in 2003 and the ACS Award for Creative Work in Fluorine Chemistry in 1986.

Professor of Chemistry and Department Chair Stephen Bradforth lauded the accomplishments of Christe and Thompson.

“The department is really delighted to have two of its own recognized with these prestigious awards,” he said. “The awards bring great visibility across the global chemistry community to the innovative molecular research being carried out right here at USC Dornsife.  

“Mark has been a trailblazer in designing truly novel materials for societally-important technologies like displays in smartphones and photovoltaics for solar cells. But what is equally exciting is that he draws on fundamental concepts in chemistry for this innovation,” Bradforth continued. “Karl’s research is often characterized as ‘impossible chemistry’ — he literally goes where others fear to tread. His skills in chemical synthesis are truly unsurpassed and it is wonderful to see this recognition by his peers.”

In earlier chemistry department news, G.K. Surya Prakash was named an ACS fellow in August at the ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.