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Momentum Award: Larry Scott

Professor's Research And Guidance Has Helped Chemistry Department Flourish


Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013

Updated: Thursday, May 2, 2013 02:05

Momentum Award: Larry Scott

Graham Beck // Heights Editor

A lot  has changed in the chemistry department since Lawrence Scott first came to Boston College.

The current Louise and Jim Vanderslice and Family professor in chemistry arrived on the Heights in 1993, just after the construction of Merkert Hall, still the only academic building on campus dedicated to a single department.

Until the early ’90s, T. Ross Kelly, currently the Margaret and Thomas Vanderslice professor in chemistry, ran essentially the only research group in organic chemistry, when there were only two or three graduate students in the organic program. In 1990, the department received 24 grants, totaling $2.2 million.

During the early ’90s, the organic faculty began their meteoric rise with the addition of Amir Hoveyda, current department chair and Joseph T. and Patricia Vanderslice Millennium professor of chemistry, professor Marc Snapper, and Scott. Over the next 20 years, the department would grow enormously.

Scott’s career in chemistry began long before BC, however, and his road to Merkert was a long one. It began with his first chemistry set and summers spent exploring the University of Illinois’ chemistry department as a child growing up within 10 blocks of the campus. After taking freshman chemistry at the university during his senior year in high school, his journey continued through his undergraduate years at Princeton—both his father’s and his grandfather’s alma mater, and now his own—where he spent long hours in research labs and discovered a passion for organic chemistry.

Scott’s professional training continued at Harvard, where he obtained a Ph.D. in chemistry in four years under Nobel laureate and legendary organic chemist R.B. Woodward. After, he moved west to work as an assistant professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, where he stayed for five years before moving to his 18-year professorship at the University of Nevada-Reno.

“For me, the career path was always easy and never troublesome,” Scott said on his decision to become an educator. “I always knew pretty far in advance, at the next branch in the road, which branch I was going to take.”

Scott spoke highly of his experience in Nevada, particularly commenting on the nice weather and the skiing. His more serious pursuits in academics and his growing research success, however, attracted notice from faculty across the country.

In the summer of 1992, Scott received a letter from Kelly, inviting him to present at an organic chemistry symposium at BC in the fall. After giving a talk on his research at BC, Scott said he returned to Reno with no plans to change.

Ten days after arriving home, however, Scott received a call from Kelly, asking him to fly back out to Boston to meet the rest of the faculty and consider joining BC’s growing chemistry department. Scott was initially hesitant—he was happy with the life that he and his wife had established with their four daughters in Nevada—but Kelly promised that he could be happy in Boston too.

“One thing led to another, and by the next summer, I was here,” Scott said. “That was in 1993, so this is my 20th year. And they were right—it’s a great department, good students that are fun to teach, and it’s Boston.”

Twenty years later, Kelly is more than happy with his decision to reach out to Scott as an addition to the faculty. “He is truly a man of many talents and a great person to have as a colleague,” Kelly said.

Since his move to BC in the early ’90s, Scott’s career in organic chemistry research, particularly with carbon rich materials, has been remarkably successful. In the early 2000s, his research group was the first in the world to develop a rational synthesis of buckminsterfullerene, a 60-carbon structure shaped like a soccer ball with potential applications in superconductors, HIV/AIDS research, and alternative fuels.

In recent years, his group has also advanced the synthesis of electrically conductive carbon nanotubes and nanowires, which have the potential to decrease the size of common circuits and transistors—like those used in computers and smartphones—by several orders of magnitude.

Kelly, who has been a chemistry professor at BC since 1969, spoke highly of Scott’s research over the last 20 years. “Scientifically, Larry has earned international recognition for himself and his students, for the chemistry department, and for BC,” Kelly said.

Snapper, who gravitated to Scott as a role model when they both arrived in the early ’90s, agreed with Kelly. “Professor Scott has been a wonderful, productive member of this department where he has shown us how to pursue cutting-edge research, have a strong commitment to excellence in teaching, and enjoy the position all along the way,” Snapper said. “Given his well thought out views and balanced opinions on all sorts of professional matters, I would often seek out his advice and guidance, which he was always happy to provide.”

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