The Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest is one of the most prestigious honors provided by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society. The award annually recognizes a chemist whose scientific and technical work has contributed to the public well-being, and has thereby communicated positive values of the chemical profession. The Awardee should be a living resident of the United States or Canada at the time of nomination, and the significance of this work should have become apparent within the five years preceding nomination.
The Award was established in 1987 to honor the memory of Gustavus John Esselen, a distinguished member of the Northeastern Section. The first awardees were F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, who subsequently received the Nobel Prize. As can be seen by the list of past recipients, any field of chemistry is valid as long as the scientific work has clearly contributed to the public well-being and its value to society has become apparent within the last five years.
The award consists of a medal and a check for $5,000. Travel expenses incidental to the conferring of this award will be reimbursed. The award will usually be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the April meeting of the Northeastern Section. The Awardee will deliver an address on the subject of the work for which the honor is being conferred, or for work in progress which is also directed to chemistry in the public interest.
A Brief History
In 1985 an inquiry was made as to whether the Section would wish to honor another former leader of the Northeastern Section. The Esselen family proposed to donate a sum of money to provide for an award in the memory of Gustavus John Esselen II, Chairman in 1922 and 1923, and a member of the ACS Board of Directors for many years. In 1948, Dr. Esselen received a special award, the James Flack Norris Honor Scroll, “as the person who has done most to advance the interests of the Northeastern Section.” A committee consisting of William O. Foye, Truman S. Light, Arthur S. Obermayer, and Myron S. Simon, Section Chairman, met with Esselen’s son, Gustavus J. Esselen III, and recommended to the Board of Directors that the Section accept the offer, which it did. The committee and Mr. Esselen agreed that the award should not be in a specific field of chemistry, but instead should have the special purpose of emphasizing the positive values of chemistry to mankind. In light of the climate of the day, with the disaster of Bhopal on every chemist’s mind and the public receiving nothing but negative stories about chemistry from the media, this was to be a small step toward establishing a balance.
Mr. Esselen proposed to add a bronze medal to the monetary award. A prominent sculptor from Newton, Massachusetts, Lloyd Lillie, was selected to prepare the design which was then approved by members of the Esselen family. The fact that Dr. Esselen had done much work in plastics during his career led his son to propose that the bronze medal be imbedded in a block of clear plastic, which was done, to give a very distinctive addition to the ceremonial presentation.
The first presentation of the Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest was made in 1987 to F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina for their work on the chemical processes which were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, explaining the formation of the Antarctic Ozone Hole. Since then, the award has been given to chemists in several fields of chemistry and has become a much coveted prize.
– Myron S. Simon, assisted by Phyllis A. Brauner, Arno Heyn and Arthur S. Obermayer with suggestions from Edward R. Atkinson. “The Last Quarter Century, Part I,” The Nucleus, Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society, Inc., February, 1998, pp 17-18
Nobel Prize Recipients
The following Esselen award recipients have also gone on to receive a Nobel Prize:
- Carolyn R. Bertozzi
- Jennifer A. Doudna
- Kary B. Mullis
- F. Sherwood Rowland
- Mario J. Molina
2023 Esselen Award Call for Nominations
The Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS) is inviting nominations for the 37th Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest. This prestigious annual award is given to a chemical scientist whose scientific and technical work has contributed significantly to the public well-being thereby communicating the positive values of the chemical profession. The awardee shall be a living resident of the United States or Canada at the time of nomination and the public impact of the work should have become apparent within the five years preceding the nomination.
There is no limitation to the field of chemistry. The selection committee focuses on the general public recognition of the work, as well as its scientific/technical significance.
The Award consists of a bronze medal and the sum of $5,000. Travel expenses incidental to the conferring of the award will be reimbursed. The award will be presented at the April 2024 meeting of the Section. The Awardee is expected to deliver an address on the subject of the work for which the honor is conferred, or for work in progress which is also directed toward chemistry in the public interest.
Nominations should be submitted as a single pdf file including:
- A letter signed by the primary sponsor with a description of the nominee’s work recognized as making a major contribution to the public welfare and as communicating positive values of the chemical profession, plus the names of two co-sponsors;
- Short supporting co-sponsor statements;
- The nominee’s professional biography including a list of no more than ten of the nominee’s publications selected for their pertinence to the work nominated for recognition; and
- Copies of popular and technical press news or feature articles indicative of public benefit and interest.
Inquiries may be directed to Dr. Macor or Ms. Piper Grady at the above emails or to Jeananne Piper Grady, Tel. (617) 620-8315. Address: 11 Thaxter St., Hingham, MA 02043.
Gustavus John Esselen, II was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, June 30, 1888, the son of Gustavus J. and Joanna Blyleven Esselen. All of his higher education was obtained at Harvard University where he was awarded the A.B. (magna cum laude) in chemistry in 1909 and a doctorate in 1912. In that same year he married Henrietta W. Locke who with three children survived him at the time of his death on Oct. 22, 1952.
Until 1921 he was a member of the research staff of General Electric Co. in Lynn and then of Arthur D. Little, Inc. of Cambridge, MA. At the latter firm he was associated with Little and Wallace Murray in the fabrication of a “silk” purse from reconstituted collagen, in turn derived from a sow’s ear. In 1930 he founded Gustavus J. Esselen, Inc., which subsequently became Esselen Research Corporation and then, following a merger, Esselen Research Division of United States Testing Co., Inc. During this period he was involved in solving a variety of problems submitted by industrial clients. Among these was the development of anhydride curing agents for epoxy resins and poly(vinylbutyral) as an improved material for safety glass, both of which enjoyed considerable commercial success. More than 40 U.S. patents were issued as a result of his research efforts.
Esselen was a member of the American Chemical Society for 43 years during which time his outstanding services to the society and the profession of chemistry were recognized and honored, not only in his native New England, but throughout the United States. He was twice chairman of the Northeastern Section, ACS (1922-23) and served as councilor and director of the national organization, during which time he was a member of the ACS Council Policy Committee. His chairmanship of the national ACS meetings held in Boston in 1928 and 1939 was an outstanding service. He was on the advisory boards of I/EC and C&E News, 1946-48. In 1948 he received the James Flack Norris Honor Scroll as “the person who has done most to advance the interests of the Northeastern Section.” In 1950 he was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Chemists for his services to the profession of chemistry and chemical engineering. From 1919 to 1951 he was chairman of the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry. Prior to World War II he was a reserve officer in the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service. During the war he was a committee chairman with the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
Esselen’s distinguished contributions to chemistry and chemical engineering were in accordance with the highest ethics of these professions; his recognition of the duties of a professional led to his exertion of a wise and beneficent influence on all the professional societies to which he gave so generously of his time and led to his participation in numerous civic activities in the Boston area. Esselen was a very sensitive person, devoted throughout his life to the fine arts and music. His motto, contained on a tapestry in his office, was a quotation of Richard Wilstþtter, “It is our destiny, not to create, but to unveil.”
Adapted from Edward R. Atkinson, in W.D. Miles (Ed.), “American Chemists and Chemical Engineers,” American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1976, p 147.
Richard B. Silverman
2024 Esselen Award Winner
Dr. Silverman is the winner of the Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest. The award ceremony will take place Friday, April 12, 2024 at the Harvard Faculty Club, Cambridge Massachusetts. Details will appear in the Nucleus shortly.
Kimberly A. Prather, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Tiny Critters, Huge Impacts: How microbes impact climate and health
Philip S. Low, Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Purdue University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: A New Generation of Targeted Therapies for Cancer, Autoimmune, and Infectious Diseases.
Geoffrey W. Coates, Tisch University Professor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: In Pursuit of the Perfect Plastic.
Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology and Radiology, Stanford University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; Baker Family co-Director of ChEM-H. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical Approaches to Problems in Global Health.
Jennifer A. Doudna, Howard Hughes Institute Investigator, Kashing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences, Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology, University of California, Berkeley. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Re-writing the Code of Life: The Impacts and Ethics of Genome Editing.
Neil M. Donahue, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie-Mellon University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Atmospheric Ozonolysis: From Collisional Energy Transfer to Particle Physics and Everything in Between.
Timothy M. Swager, John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry, MIT and Director of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical/Biological Sensing: Science and Real World Applications.
Eric N. Jacobsen, Sheldon Emery Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Catalysis: A Frontier at the Center of Chemistry.
David R. Walt, Robinson Professor of Chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, Tufts University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Microwell Arrays: From Genetic Analysis to Ultra-High Sensitivity Diagnostic.
Michael H. Gelb, Harry and Catherine Jaynne Boand Endowed Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Frantisek Turecek, Chemistry Department at University of Washington.
Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Chemistry of Next Generation Newborn Screening.
Bruce Ganem, Franz and Elisabeth Roessler Professor of Chemistry and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow w in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Lost (Sometimes) in Translation: Advancing Chemical Discoveries Beyond the Laboratory.
Arthur J. Nozick, Senior Research Fellow, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Professor Adjunct, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Prospects and Novel Approaches for the Low Cost Power Conversion of Solar Photons to Electricity and Solar Fuels.
Stephen L. Buchwald, Camille Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, MIT. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Palladium- and Copper-Catalyzed Processes for the Synthesis of Pharmaceutically-Relevant Molecules.
Chad A. Mirkin, Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Biological and Chemical Engineering, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Northwestern University, Nanostructures in Chemistry, Biology, and Medicine. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Nanostructures in Chemistry, Biology and Medicine: Realized Promise and Future Prospects.
John A. Katzenellenbogen, Swanlund Professor of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Chapaign-Urbana. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Estrogens and Estrogen receptors as a Nexus of Chemistry and Biology in Health and Disease.
Michael A. Marletta, Aldo DeBenedictus Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Nitric Oxide in Biology: From Discovery to Therapeutics.
Richard D. DiMarchi, Gill Chair of Biomolecular Sciences, Indiana University and Chairman, Ambrx, Inc. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical Biotechnology as a Means to Optimal Protein Therapeutics.
Jean M. J. Fréchet, Rapoport Chair of Organic Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley and Head of Materials Synthesis at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Functional Macromolecules: From Design and Synthesis to Applications.
James W. Jorgenson, W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Magic of Capillaries in Chemical Separations and Analysis.
Bruce D. Roth, Vice-President, Chemistry, Pfizer Global Research Development, Ann Arbor Laboratories. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Discovery and Development of Lipitor® (Atorvastatin Calcium).
Ronald Breslow, Samuel Latham Mitchill Professor of Chemistry, Columbia University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemistry Lessons from Biology and vice versa.
Joseph M. DeSimone, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. and Department of Chemical Engineering, North Carolina State University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Green Chemistry for Sustainable Economic Development.
William A. Pryor, Louisiana State University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Vitamin E and the Prevention of Heart Disease.
Robert S. Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Development of Unique Polymers for Medical Applications.
Kyriacos C. Nicolaou, Scripps Research Institute. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical Synthesis and Chemical Biology of Natural Substances.
Rangaswamy Srinivasan, UVTech Associates. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Widely Used Laser Methodology of Tiny Focused Ablative Photodecomposition.
Roy G. Gordon, Harvard University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Low Emissivity Glass; Energy Conserving Windows.
Howard J. Schaeffer, Burroughs Wellcome Company. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Nucleosides with Antiviral Activity – The Discovery of Acyclovir (Zovirax®).
Kary B. Mullis. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Discovery of Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR) for the Replication of DNA Molecules.
James G. Anderson, Harvard University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Experimental Methods for Measuring Global Ozone Loss.
Bruce N. Ames, University of California at Berkeley. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Methods for Detection of Carcinogens and Causes of Aging and Cancer.
Jerrold Meinwald, Cornell University
Thomas Eisner, Cornell University
Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical Responses in the Insect and Plant World.
Thomas J. Dougherty, Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Topic of Esselen Award Address: The Development of Photodynamic Therapy for the Treatment of Malignant Disease.
Carl Djerassi, Stanford University. Topic of Esselen Award Address: Synthesis and Promotion of the First and Most Common Birth Control Hormone.
Alfred P. Wolf, Brookhaven National Laboratories.
Joanna S. Fowler, Brookhaven National Laboratories.
Topic of Esselen Award Address: Chemical Procedures to Make Positron Emission Tomography a Practical Method in Medical Diagnosis.
F. Sherwood Rowland, University of California at Irvine
Mario J. Molina, University of California at Irvine
Topic of Esselen Award Address: Discovery of the Influence of Chlorofluorocarbons on the Ozone Layer.
- 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient (Co-recipients)
Who We Are
John Macor, Chair
Penny J. Beuning
Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Karen N. Allen
Department of Chemistry
The members selected by the Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Chemical Society, respectively:
Laura L. Kiessling
Department of Chemistry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chemical & Engineering News
Secretary of the Esselen Award Committee:
Jeananne Piper Grady