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ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry 2004: Virgil Percec

Virgil Percec, P. Roy Vagelos Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, has contributed to the development of novel methods of polymer synthesis for both covalent and supramolecular systems ranging from liquid-crystalline polymers to dendrimers.
„The trademarks of his work include amazing creativity, great breadth, vision, thoroughness, and reliability,” remarks Jean M. J. Fréchet, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. „He has opened numerous new important areas of polymer chemistry and found ways to apply his enormous skills to solve real problems of scientific and technological significance.”
Percec’s research has focused on a wide variety of topics, including the synthesis and chemistry of poly(arylacetylene)s, metal-catalyzed ion-radical arylations, phase-transfer catalyzed polymerizations, living radical polymerizations, and supramolecular polymer chemistry.

Born in 1946, he obtained his Ph.D. at the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, Jassy, Romania, in 1976. His career in polymer chemistry, he says, was influenced by many people, including his parents.
„My father, who was a musician and a painter, paid for me to have private lessons to learn almost any instrument, and he taught me painting,” he tells C & EN. „Although I became addicted to art, I did not want to be second to my father, and therefore I decided to study architecture.”
During the last few weeks at high school, he had several classes of organic chemistry that persuaded him to switch to polymer chemistry.

„My parents were not happy with my decision,” he says. „However, nature was a model for art, and I therefore decided to use it as an inspiration for the construction of complex molecular, macromolecular, and supramolecular architectures.”

In the late 1970s, he elaborated methods for the synthesis and structural analysis of cis-poly(phenylacetylene)s that today provide the most frequently used models for nonbiological helical macromolecules.

After defecting from his native Romania, Percec carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and the University of Akron, in Ohio. He was appointed assistant professor in the department of macromolecular science at Case Western Reserve University in 1982 and became professor there in 1986. He took up his present post at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999.

During the 1990s, Percec explored the interface between supramolecular and macromolecular chemistry. His work included the discovery of cyclic and dendritic liquid crystals and the design and synthesis of taper-shaped monomers that mimic the building blocks of viruses in their self-assembly characteristics as they spontaneously form highly ordered macromolecular structures.

He also discovered polymerization methods that employ nickel-catalyzed homo- and cross-coupling reactions of unactivated aryl sulfonates to generate carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bonds.

„This work has become a standard tool of the synthetic polymer chemists,” according to Fréchet. „His methods constitute the simplest and most convenient route for the preparation of soluble regioregular poly(p-phenylenes).”

Percec’s work has received international acclaim. In 1993, he was elected a foreign member of the Romanian Academy, and in 2002, he received the Polymer Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry in the Netherlands. He was chair of the European Gordon Research Conference on Polymers in Paris in 1997. He is also the author of over 520 publications and 31 patents, and has presented more than 765 contributed, invited, and endowed lectures in over 35 countries.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Polymer Chemistry.