2015 Beckman Symposium   

Sir Fraser Stoddart, PhD

Presentation Date:

Sir Fraser Stoddart, PhD

Three Tales of Serendipity

Northwestern University



My talk will focus on the power and influence of unexpected discoveries in scientific research. My first tale relates to the accidental discovery of all-organic solid-state materials which boast the welcome but elusive property of room temperature ferro-electricity. While the materials’ behavior was unexpected, the molecular basis for it is simple. A 1:1 mixture of neutral aromatic donors and acceptors form mixed stacks that afford materials with emergent properties that are not shared by any of the components. This discovery could have implications for cloud computing and cell phone technology. The second tale is built around the totally unexpected ability of g-cyclodextrin (g-CD) to form metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) with Group 1A metal cations, e.g., potassium ions, which have been fully characterized by single-crystal X-ray crystallography. These edible (green) MOFs, which have potential applications in the food, personal care, home care, pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, have given rise to the establishment of a start-up company. The third tale, which grew equally unexpectedly out of the second tale, relates to the observation that a-CD forms a precipitate in a few minutes with potassium tetrabromoaurate in aqueous solution. This particular discovery has led to the establishment of a second start-up company to look into environmentally friendly ways of extracting gold from ores and urban waste, e.g., cell phones and the like!


The academic career of Sir Fraser Stoddart, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, can be traced from the Athens of the North to the Windy City beside Lake Michigan with interludes on the edge of the Canadian Shield beside Lake Ontario, in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, on the Plains of Cheshire beside the Wirral, in the Midlands of the Heartland of Albion, and in the City of the Angels beside the Peaceful Sea.  Sir Fraser is known for his pursuing chemistry beyond the molecule, which, combined with his interest in templation, has led to the template-directed synthesis, based on molecular recognition and self-assembly processes, of a wide range of mechanically interlocked molecules, bistable variants of which have found their way into molecular electronic devices and drug delivery systems.  Sir Fraser has authored over 1000 publications and he has given over 1000 invited lectures.  He has mentored more than 400 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows during more than four decades as a professor, scholar and researcher in chemistry.  Many of them are now engaged successfully in scholarly pursuits of their own, in academia, in publishing, in industry, in commerce, and in government.  

Professor Stoddart was appointed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Knight Bachelor in her 2007 New Year’s Honors list for services to chemistry and molecular nanotechnology.  In the same year, he won the King Faisal International Prize in Science, the Albert Einstein World Award in Science, the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, and the Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry.  In 2010, he was the recipient of a Royal Medal, granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and presented to him by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (1994) and a Member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012) and the National Academy of Sciences (2014).

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