posted March 23, 2009

Lecture to Discuss Solar Power

Internationally acclaimed scientist Dr. Harry B. Gray of Caltech will discuss his research into solar power during a lecture at Hope College on Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m. in the DeWitt Center main theatre.

The public is invited.  Admission is free.

Gray, who is the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and the Founding Director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology, will present the address "Powering the Planet with Solar Fuel."  The lecture will be a non-technical talk intended for a general audience.

Gray will discuss his research team's work to develop an efficient, economical way to store solar energy in chemical fuels that could be used after dark or on cloudy days.

"Green plants use this strategy, so my lab and others are trying to design solar-driven molecular machines that are even more efficient than photosynthesis," he said.  "Our goal is to split water into hydrogen, a storable fuel, and oxygen.  We have made great progress of late, using inexpensive, abundant materials.

Gray's contributions to chemistry include more than 700 papers and 17 books.  Major awards that he has received include the National Medal of Science from President Ronald Reagan (1986); the Linderstrom-Lang Prize (Denmark, 1991); the Gibbs Medal (1994); the Harvey Prize (Israel, 2000); the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences (2003); the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry (2004); the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (Israel, 2004); the City of Florence Prize in Molecular Sciences (Italy, 2006); six national awards from the American Chemical Society, including the Priestley Medal (1991); and 16 honorary doctorates.  He was California Scientist of the Year in 1988.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and a foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Great Britain and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy).  He has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation since 1994.

Gray completed his doctorate in Northwestern University in 1960, and after a postdoctoral year at the University of Copenhagen joined the chemistry faculty Columbia University.  He moved to Caltech in 1966.

His main research interests center on inorganic spectroscopy, photochemistry and bioinorganic chemistry, with emphasis on understanding electron transfer in proteins.

Gray's address at Hope is co-sponsored by multiple programs at the college, including the department of chemistry, the department of geological and environmental sciences, the Environmental Issues student organization, the environmental studies program and the Hope College Sustainability Task Force.

While on campus, Gray will also speak through the weekly seminar series coordinated by the college's department of chemistry.  He will present "Electron Flow through Iron and Copper Proteins" on Friday, April 4, at 4 p.m. in the Maas Center auditorium as the series' annual Neckers Lecture.

The James and Jeanette Neckers Lectureship and Student Assistance Fund through which Gray will be speaking on April 4 was established in 1984 by Dr. James W. and Jeanette Hoffman Neckers, members of the college's Class of 1923, to support annual lectureships in chemistry. Through additional gifts from Dr. Neckers, the fund was expanded to include student summer research stipends and student scholarships.

James Neckers was chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for 37 of his 40 years at the university. Under his leadership, the department grew from a three-year offering in chemistry to granting the doctorate; the faculty grew from three to 23. Jeanette Neckers died on June 10, 1992, and James Neckers died on May 8, 2004.

The DeWitt Center is located at 141 E. 12th St., facing Columbia Avenue at 12th Street.  The Maas Center is located at 264 Columbia Ave., on Columbia Avenue at 11th Street.