Pasadena chemist wins national award for environmental research

Chemist Michael R. Hoffmann of South Pasadena, Calif., will be honored April 3 by the world's largest scientific society for his achievements in applying fundamental insights of chemistry to environmental problems and solutions. He will receive the 2001 Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in San Diego.

"Michael has revolutionized the field of environmental chemistry over the past 20 years," wrote a colleague to support Hoffmann's award nomination.

Hoffmann, who is James Irvine professor of environmental science at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, began his career studying the role of clouds in processing compounds in the atmosphere.

"Until then, clouds had really been ignored as possible sites for chemical reactions," he said. Hoffmann's insights into the interactions of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen peroxide and cloud water helped reveal how acid rain develops.

A current focus of his research team is developing ecologically benign technologies to control pollution. For example, sonochemistry can destroy chemical contaminants with sound, he said, explaining, "These sound-induced reactions can actually combust contaminants in localized spots in water."

Hoffmann has led the way with another advanced technology: removing pollutants in water with fiber optics. "Titanium dioxide and light, for example, will generate hydroxy radicals - a natural cleaning agent in water," he said. "So one could mount this system on a fiber optic bundle, stick it down a well, and light comes down to activate the process. Organic contaminants are oxidized to carbon dioxide and water."

The environmental chemist said a Gilbert chemistry set introduced him to hands-on science in the second grade. "I also had friends with relatives in the chemical industry," he remembered. "There'd be trade magazines lying around the house and we started cooking things u

Contact: Rodney Pearson
American Chemical Society

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