2016 Priestley Medal

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Professor Emeritus Mostafa El-Sayed has been named recipient of the 2016 Priestley Medal, the highest honor conferred by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Prof. El-Sayed is being recognized by ACS for his pioneering research on nanomaterials and his years of service to ACS, including his 24 years as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

“This is wonderful news, just fantastic,” Prof. El-Sayed said in an interview with Chemical & Engineering News. “I am lucky to have been in the right place and with the right society,” he added, referring to his many years of service to ACS. 

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Professor Mostafa El-Sayed will receive the Priestley Medal in 2016. Photo credit: Georgia Tech

Prof. El-Sayed has received many awards and honors including the election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1980 and the appointment by President Obama to the President’s National Medal of Science Committee in 2014.

A native-born Egyptian, Prof. El-Sayed received his B.Sc. at Ain Shams University (1953) in Cairo, Egypt, and his Ph.D. degree at Florida State University (1958) in Tallahassee, Florida. He did his postdoctoral work at Yale, Harvard, and California Institute of Technology before joined the faculty at the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1961. In 1994, he was recruited by Georgia Tech and became the Julius Brown Chair, Regents Professor, and the Director of the Laser Dynamics Laboratory.

In 2009, Prof. El-Sayed received the prestigious Glenn T. Seaborg Medal awarded by the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to honor individuals for exceptional scientific contributions to chemistry and biochemistry. 

From Chemistry & Engineering News (by Mitch Jacoby):

During his extensive scientific career, El-Sayed, who is currently the director of Georgia Tech’s Laser Dynamics Laboratory, has carried out numerous lines of research. Early on he developed molecular spectroscopy techniques to elucidate the molecular mechanisms and dynamics of molecules, gas-phase clusters, solids, and photobiological systems.

More recently, El-Sayed’s research group has focused on developing nanoscale materials and using those materials in catalysis, medicine, and sensing. The work has had quite an impact on the field, garnering numerous citations.

For example, one of the group’s review papers outlining the connections between the shapes of nanocrystals and their chemical and physical properties has been cited some 5,000 times since it was published in 2005. Another paper, this one detailing the synthesis of gold nanorods with narrow size and shape distributions, has remained Chemistry of Materials’ most cited and downloaded paper for several years in a row. El-Sayed’s group led the way in explaining the exceptionally intense fluorescence signal generated by these nanorods and how to use them for cancer diagnostics and phototherapy.

In related work, the team showed that custom-made nanoparticles could be used with Raman spectroscopy to observe real-time molecular changes in single cells and to follow the dynamics of drug delivery in cancer cells and their ensuing apoptosis.

El-Sayed’s colleagues are quick to share their enthusiasm for the nanomaterials pioneer. Chemistry Nobel Laureate Ahmed H. Zewail of California Institute of Technology asserts that El-Sayed has made “significant and seminal contributions to several areas of physical and biophysical chemistry.” Pointing to El-Sayed’s recent cancer studies, Zewail adds that El-Sayed “masterfully shows his innovative and creative approach and the ability to tackle interesting and broad-ranging problems.”

ACS Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Thomas M. Connelly Jr. concurs. “Mostafa El-Sayed is an outstanding choice” to receive ACS’s most prestigious award, Connelly says. He adds that El-Sayed’s contributions to nanoscience are “truly groundbreaking,” and it is fitting that El-Sayed be recognized for inspiring students throughout his career and for his many years of journal editing. Connelly adds that he’s looking forward to hearing El-Sayed share reflections on his career during the Priestley award address at the March 2016 ACS national meeting in San Diego.