UC Berkeley chemistry professor receives highest award from American Chemical Society

By Greg Butera, College of Chemistry

BERKELEY--Nuclear chemist Darleane C. Hoffman, a chemistry professor of the graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, has been chosen to receive the Priestley Medal, the highest honor of the American Chemical Society.

Hoffman is only the second woman honored with the medal. The first, Mary L. Good, received it in 1997.

The award, announced in a recent issue of the society's publication Chemical and Engineering News, recognizes distinguished service to chemistry. Hoffman, professor at UC Berkeley since 1984, is also a faculty senior scientist and co-leader of the Heavy Element Nuclear and Radiochemistry Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Hoffman says she was very surprised and honored to win.

"It is especially meaningful to me because, these days, few nuclear scientists receive this type of broad-based recognition," she said. "I'm particularly pleased that ACS thought my contributions in general were sufficient to merit such an award."

"It is significant that two women received this within such a short time," she added. "I foresee many more in the future, since today there are many more women in chemistry than in the past. I hope that it will greatly encourage other women to see that women can succeed and are recognized by the ACS and by scientists in general."

Hoffman also was recognized with the National Medal of Science in 1997.

In the field of nuclear chemistry, Hoffman's research has focused on the heaviest elements known to science. During her career she has sought examples of the heavy elements in nature, helped develop rapid chemical separation of short-lived fission products, and has studied the spontaneous fission process, the separation chemistry of lanthanide and actinide elements, and the chemical and nuclear properties of the heaviest elements.

Hoffman's accomplishments include the discovery of plutonium-244 in nature, the first observation of enhanced symmetric mass division in spontaneous fission of heavy fermium isotopes, the first direct proof of electron-capture delayed fission, and the development of "atom-at-a-time" chemistry, which permits the study of heavy elements with half-lives of a minute or less. Her group performed the first studies of the aqueous chemistry of element 105 and confirmed the discovery of element 106 (seaborgium, the heaviest element on which chemistry has been done). She and her coworkers also are participating in an international collaboration that has performed the first studies of its chemical properties.

Appreciating the symbolism of winning the award in the year 2000, Hoffman noted the challenges awaiting science in the new millennium.

"In nuclear science, we are in a renaissance period," she said, mentioning new predictions of much more stable isotopes of the elements above 106, with the possibility of half-lives of 50 years and longer for very heavy isotopes of elements 108 through 114.

"Now the trick will be to figure out how to produce them in sufficient quantity for study of their properties. But overall, we are at a critical juncture in the progress of all science. We can do things before we are ready or know how to take responsibility for them. For example, cloning, genetic engineering, behavior control - these are things science fiction projected. How we will settle the moral and ethical dilemmas inherent in these discoveries is a very difficult question."

A native Iowan, Hoffman received her BS in chemistry from Iowa State University in 1948 and her PhD in physical nuclear chemistry in 1951. She started her career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but moved in 1953 to the radiochemistry group at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (later renamed Los Alamos National Laboratory).

She spent 1978 and 1979 at UC Berkeley as a Guggenheim Fellow with a group led by Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who died earlier this year. She returned to Los Alamos to be division leader of the Chemistry-Nuclear Chemistry and Isotope & Nuclear Chemistry divisions. In 1984, she returned to UC Berkeley as professor of nuclear chemistry and group leader at LBNL.

After retiring from active teaching in 1991, Hoffman helped establish and became the first director of the Glenn T. Seaborg Institute for Transactinium Science at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (and LBNL). She served in that position until September 1996. Fifteen students have received graduate degrees in nuclear chemistry under her direction; her research group currently has six graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows.

She has been active in the ACS Division of Nuclear Chemistry and Technology, serving as program chair, chair and as a member of the executive committee. She also was a member and chair of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Nuclear and Radiochemistry and has served on the NRC Board of Radioactive Waste Management since 1994. She was also a member from 1974 to 1980 of the first international committee appointed by the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to examine claims to priority of discovery of elements 104 and 105.

Hoffman's many honors include an ACS award in nuclear chemistry (1983) and the ACS's Garvan Medal (1990), which honors distinguished service to chemistry by women chemists. She also received the Berkeley Citation for "Distinguished Achievement and Notable Service to the University (1996)." Hoffman was elected to the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1990 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998. She has authored more than 200 papers.

Hoffman will receive the Priestley Medal in March 2000 at the ACS national meeting in San Francisco.


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