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Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry David Allara awarded 2022 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience

1 June 2022
David Allara. Credit: Nils Lund / Kavli Prize
David Allara, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State. Credit: Nils Lund / Kavli Prize

David L. Allara, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State, has been named a 2022 Kavli Prize Laureate in the field of nanoscience by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The Kavli Prize honors scientists for breakthroughs in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience that transform understanding of the big, the small, and the complex. A $1 million-dollar prize is awarded every other year in each of the three fields, and the laureates in each field share the prize. 

This year, eleven scientists from six countries have been honored with the prize, including four in the field of nanoscience. Allara shares the 2022 prize in nanoscience with Ralph G. Nuzzo, G.L. Clark Professor of Chemistry  at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Jacob Sagiv, professor of chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and George Whitesides, Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University.

“We honor the 2022 Kavli Prize Laureates for their transformative contributions to science and society. Their discoveries created entirely new fields, opened up new realms of scientific research and advanced science for the benefit of humankind,” says Lise Øvreås, president of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

The four incoming laureates in the field of nanoscience are pioneers in their field. Their research has transformed the field of materials surface science and led to applications shaping daily life in areas from medical diagnostics to semiconductor devices. These scientists created molecular-scale coatings for surfaces which enable unprecedented control and engineering of surface properties. The coatings are based on self-assembled monolayers, which are stable and well-organized single layers of molecules that stick to a surface by adsorption and are held together by mutual interaction.

“Self-assembled monolayers are extremely important in many phenomena at the nanoscale,” stated Chair of the Nanoscience Committee, Bodil Holst. “Sagiv, Nuzzo, Allara and Whitesides opened up a whole new world with their discoveries. This is documented through scientific insights and the enormous amount of applications utilizing self-assembled monolayers.” 

Allara and Nuzzo were specifically recognized for their work together, which shows that self-assembled monolayers strongly bond to bare metal surfaces. They established that self-assembled monolayers can be characterized by infrared and other optical spectroscopies. Also, they deduced the packing and orientation of the constituent molecules including their functional groups. This generated a deep scientific understanding which enabled the rational design of self-assembled monolayers with specific functionalities. 

“Dave is a true scholar and I’m thrilled to see this very high recognition of his work,” said Phil Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State. “At the time, Dave was just following his instincts and pursuing basic research. This award goes to show how the fruits of such labors can be quite profound.”

Allara is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Vacuum Society for Science and Technology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recognized with the Adamson Award for Distinguished Achievements in Surface Chemistry in 2003, an American Chemical Society Analytical Division Spectrochemical Analysis Award in 1998, and a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff award for career achievement by Bell Laboratories in 1984.

In addition to publishing numerous, highly cited papers in scientific journals, Allara has served on the editorial and advisory boards of various journals and textbook series and on the scientific advisory boards of several technology companies. He was a co-founder and a director of Molecular Electronics Incorporated and he also co-founded the companies Nanostar, NanoMolecular Sensors, and Nanomolecular Devices. He has been granted four United States patents.

Allara earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley in 1959 and a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1964. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University in England in 1965. After a distinguished career at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, he joined the faculty at Penn State in 1987, where he conducted wide-ranging research in areas involving molecular electronics, biomaterials, energy conversion, and nanoscale science.

About The Kavli Prize

The Kavli Prize is a partnership among The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and The Kavli Foundation (USA). The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters selects the laureates based on recommendations from three independent prize committees whose members are nominated by The Chinese Academy of Sciences, The French Academy of Sciences, The Max Planck Society of Germany, The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and The Royal Society, UK. 

For more information, and details about winners in other fields, visit the Kavli Prize website.

Media Contacts
Gail McCormick
Science Writer