Remembering Inorganic Chemistry trailblazer, Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne

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Hawthorne Headshot

Hawthorne’s work was groundbreaking in the sciences. A true chemistry pioneer, his work can be seen in every inorganic chemistry textbook today.

UCLA Professor Alexander Spokoyny worked in Hawthorne’s lab when he was an undergraduate student at UCLA. Spokoyny, Professor William B. Tolman, Washington University in St. Louis (current editor-in-chief of Inorganic Chemistry) and Professor William Evans (former UCLA/Hawthorne group Ph.D. alum), UCI, honor Hawthorne’s legacy in an editorial recently published in the ACS journal Inorganic Chemistry titled “Mr. Inorganic Chemistry: M. Frederick Hawthorne (August 24, 1928–July 8, 2021)”. 

Hawthorne was long associated with Inorganic Chemistry and was its longest serving editor-in-chief. In April 2019, in honor of his 90th birthday, an editorial about Hawthorne’s research and its relevance today was featured in the journal.

Hawthorne has a long history at UCLA. Hawthorne received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1953 while being mentored by Professor and Nobel laureate, Donald J. Cram. Not long after receiving his doctorate, Hawthorne went on to become a Researcher at Redstone Arsenal research division of the Rohm and Haas Company in Huntsville, Alabama. This is where Hawthorne originally propelled his research in boron chemistry. Boron chemistry and his discoveries will become his signature impact to the world of inorganic chemistry, this ultimately led him to be endearingly called, Mr. Boron, by his peers.

Hawthorne as a group leader of Rohm and Haas (left) and Hawthorne accepting the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama

(Left) As a group leader at Rohm and Haas’s rocket fuels research lab in Huntsville, Ala., in 1957, Hawthorne was working on the boron chemistry that led to the discovery of novel polyhedral boranes and carboranes. (Right) President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Science to Hawthorne in a ceremony at the White House on February 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Hawthorne went on to continue his research and mentorship at University of California, Riverside. He then moved to UCLA in 1968 where he continued his work and discoveries, leaving a tremendous impact to the UCLA community. In 1998, Hawthorne received the most distinguished title that is given to faculty at a UC system by the Regents of University of California, Hawthorne was appointed University Professor of Chemistry at UCLA. Hawthorne retired from UCLA in 2006 and returned to his home state of Missouri where he became the head of the International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

In 2017, The American Chemical Society established the “M. Frederick Hawthorne Award in Main Group Inorganic Chemistry”, honoring his contributions to the field.  In 2020, the inaugural award was presented to Professor Karl Christe (USC) who presented the Hawthorne Award address at the 2021 Spring ACS meeting.

Hawthorne work has been recognized through many awards and honors. Most notably, the Priestley Medal (2009), the most prestigious award of the American Chemical Society, and the U.S. National Medal of Science (2011). Every year UCLA celebrates and honors Hawthorne’s legacy through the M. Frederick Hawthorne Lecture. 

Hawthorne is survived by his wife Diana Hawthorne.  A video of his memorial service, which was held on July 8, 2021, can be viewed here.

Nikki Erinakis, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,