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Allen J. Bard
President Barack Obama honors 'father of modern electrochemistry'
Allen J. Bard is the director of the Center for Electrochemistry and holds a chair in chemistry at The University of Texas – Austin, where he joined the faculty in 1958. He is also the lead investigator on the GCEP effort, Novel Electrolyte Energy Storage Systems.
President Barack Obama selected Bard for the Enrico Fermi Award, one of the U.S. government's most prestigious honors for scientific achievement, and noted that Bard's "exemplary career and dedication to the highest ideals of scientific research have served as a model for four generations of scientists in the United States and abroad and earned him a reputation as the 'father of modern electrochemistry.'"
On February 3, 2014, President Obama greeted Bard and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Andrew Sessler – co-recipient of the Fermi award – in the Oval Office. Later that day, the two awardees were honored at a formal ceremony at the Department of Energy headquarters.
Established in 1956, the Fermi award is named in honor of the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who in 1942 achieved the first nuclear chain reaction, initiating the atomic age.
Bard's electrochemistry research helped lay the ground work for critical advances in batteries, fuel cells and photoelectrochemistry – important work in the field of renewable energy.
He has received numerous honors, including the National Medal of Science (2013). He has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1990) and the National Academy of Sciences (1982).
Bard has published three books, 75 book chapters and more than 900 peer-reviewed research papers, and has received 23 patents.
A professor at The University of Texas for more than five decades, he has served as a mentor and collaborator to 91 Ph.D. students, 18 M.S. students and more than 200 postdoctoral associates, as well as numerous visiting scientists.
Bard received three degrees in chemistry, a B.S. from the City College of New York in 1955, and an M.A. (1956) and Ph.D. (1958) from Harvard University.
He took some time to answer a few questions for us:
Please tell us about your recent experience being honored with the Enrico Fermi Award at the Oval Office and at the Department of Energy
I was, of course, greatly honored, by the award and also being able to chat for a few minutes with President Obama. It is clear that the President is very supportive of, and interested in, science. At the Department of Energy, I tried to stress the problems that young academics experience today with raising funding, and I hope my talk had some impact.
You have had a long, distinguished career in chemistry and electrochemistry. What do you feel were the big technical issues that you addressed during that time?
In a broad sense, our interests have been to help bring to the field of electrochemistry a molecular approach to understanding reactions and the interplay of radiant energy (photochemistry) along with electrical and chemical energy in electrochemical systems. In particular I'm proud of our work in electrochemiluminescence and the invention of the scanning electrochemical microscope.
What has changed the most in your 50 years of being a chemistry professor/researcher?
The nature of electronics has changed dramatically during my career, from vacuum tubes, through solid-state devices, to integrated circuits. This has spawned powerful instruments and computers that have completely changed experimental and theoretical science.
What are the challenges that you would still like to tackle?
I would like to bring our understanding of electrochemistry into the nanometer regime (single molecules and single particles), and learn if studies under these conditions can teach us more about the details of electrochemical reactions. On a more practical side, I would like to see major advances in efficient and inexpensive systems for solar energy conversion to electricity and fuels.
Over the years you have mentored hundreds of students, postdocs and visiting scientists. What is most rewarding from these interactions?
Helping educate and train young people is probably the most important impact I will have in science. The most rewarding aspect of this is watching how students develop and, in a relatively short time, become experts in doing scientific research. I have enjoyed seeing their success in later life, as I have been fortunate to observe for a number of my students.
Briefly describe your GCEP research and how it could have an impact in potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We have worked on redox flow batteries. Such storage systems for electrical energy have the potential to make possible wider use of resources like solar and wind energy that are intermittent, thus replacing fossil fuels that are the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
What strategies do you believe the scientific community should be pursuing to find solutions to supplying energy to the world in an affordable and sustainable manner?
I believe, as suggested above, that the ultimate energy source will be solar energy, but that a lot of work must be done to make it reliable and affordable. More particularly, I believe new approaches to silicon production and manufacture of photovoltaic cells are needed. Ultimately, it may also be necessary to scrub carbon dioxide out of the air, as difficult as that is. Novel approaches for this will be sorely needed, if society is not able or willing to face climate change in a timely manner.
What would surprise our readers about you or your research?
Probably, that most of the time, experiments don't work out the way you think they would.
June 10, 2014
Allen J. Bard: "Novel Redox Flow Batteries" from 2013 GCEP Research Symposium (video)
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