From developing refrigerants to studying the nature of non-stick materials, "what I do is use computers to solve complex equations and get at a fundamental understanding of what molecules do," said Dixon, who is the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Battelle Fellow. "And as computers get faster and predictions more reliable, we can solve chemical problems more cheaply, quickly and safely."
His research revolves around fluorine, a highly reactive element. Its reactivity means it can help assemble complex compounds as varied as refrigerants, pharmaceuticals, rocket fuels and agricultural chemicals, but at a price: Fluorine's reactions can be unpredictable.
One of Dixon's achievements is a new energy-based scale that researchers can use to predict whether they can assemble particular fluorine compounds. He also contributed to the development of HFC 134A, the ozone-friendly coolant in many of today's refrigerators and automobile radiators.
His work, which began in the early 1980s at Dupont, started with the basics of ozone-destructive CFCs. From there came the challenges -- not just finding another good refrigerant, but one manufacturers could make in a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly way. And of course, it had to balance the fine line between being stable and safe, but easily broken down if it escaped in the atmosphere. What became HFC 134A was on the market within 10 years.
Dixon, who said he was enticed away from his boyhood interest in physics by "a great chemistry teacher in high school," received his und
Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society