Science & Tech

Texas A&M Chemist Elected To National Academy Of Sciences

Membership is considered one of the highest honors in science.
By Shana Hutchins, Texas A&M University College of Science May 27, 2022

portrait of darensbourg crossing his arms standing in front of a chalkboard with equations
Donald J. Darensbourg.

Texas A&M College of Science

Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Donald J. Darensbourg has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Darensbourg, an organometallic/inorganic chemist and 40-year member of the Texas A&M faculty prior to his May 2021 retirement, is among the 120 new members and 30 foreign associates announced May 3 by the academy on the final day of its 159th Annual Meeting in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Election to academy membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive.

The 2022 election brings the total number of active members to 2,512 and the total number of international members to 517. International members are nonvoting members of the academy with citizenship outside the United States.

“Dr. Darensbourg’s work led to practical applications that made medical and dental care safer and more reliable for people around the world,” said Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks. “This, plus his love of teaching and mentoring during his 40-year career here, reflect our bottom line of improving lives in all that we do in teaching, research and service.”

Darensbourg has been a member of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty since 1982 and was appointed a distinguished professor of chemistry in 2010. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019) and the American Chemical Society (2017), he is a noted expert in the mechanisms of organometallic reactions — in particular, carbon dioxide insertion into hydrogen-, carbon- and oxygen-metal bonds — for which he previously was recognized with the 2010 ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry. His work has led to the synthesis of biodegradable polymers for use in medical devices, including surgical sutures, internal fixation devices for repair of fractures to small bones, drug-delivery devices and dental implants.

“Carbon dioxide chemistry has been a continuous theme over most of Don’s career, and his efforts have led to exciting applications that have attracted the attention of a host of international research teams,” said 2017 National Academy of Sciences member Christopher C. Cummins, Henry Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 2016-2017 Faculty Fellow of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study at Texas A&M. “From this platform in basic science, Don developed approaches to the utilization of carbon dioxide in environmentally benign or green chemistry, which has had a tremendous impact on the development of synthetic biodegradable polymers. He also pioneered the use of novel, water-soluble, air-stable ligands in catalytic reactions in biphasic media, demonstrating that it is possible to bring such catalysts into aqueous environments and to use them successfully for catalytic processes.”

“I am thrilled with Don’s appointment to the National Academy,” said Texas A&M Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Timothy P. Scott ’89. “He is among the very best scholars at Texas A&M, and now, we have proof he rates among the very best in the nation. While Don’s scholarship speaks for itself, I appreciate his human side that I encounter almost daily at a coffee shop, meeting with the graduate students, postdocs and young faculty he actively mentors.”

Darensbourg’s research funded by the National Science Foundation and The Welch Foundation spans transition and main-group metals, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis — including polymerization and biphasic processes — and applications of infrared spectroscopy. To date, he has 436 scholarly publications to his credit, many of which are featured in the most highly ranked international journals in the field, such as the Journal of the American Chemical SocietyAngewandte Chemie and Macromolecules.

“It is wonderful to see Don recognized for his numerous outstanding research contributions, which were visionary and have led to many exciting applications,” said Simon W. North, John W. Bevan Professor of Chemistry and head of Texas A&M Chemistry. “We celebrate this accomplishment and his impact on the field of chemistry, but we are especially delighted that we celebrate such a thoughtful, supportive and unselfish colleague who has made an indelible contribution to the department and the university.”

For four decades, Darensbourg has shared laboratory space in the Texas A&M Chemistry Building with his wife and fellow chemist Marcetta Y. Darensbourg. The two also share the distinction of being the first distinguished professor couple in Texas A&M history. Although National Academy of Sciences officials say their membership includes several married couples, the Darensbourgs are a novelty in that regard in Aggieland, which with Tuesday’s news now features its first-ever National Academy-level professor couple.

Among colleagues and students alike, Darensbourg is known for a central approach to problem-solving and education in general that always focuses on the positive. His excellence in classroom and laboratory teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels has been recognized with Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards in both Teaching (1988) and Research (1990) as well as the 2016 Texas A&M College of Science Undergraduate Mentoring Award. Most recently, Darensbourg and his student, Tucker Folsom ’19, earned the 2019 ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Award for Undergraduate Research recognizing the collaborative work of an outstanding undergraduate student/preceptor team in the field of inorganic chemistry.

“It is wonderful that Dr. Darensbourg has received this honor,” said Valen E. Johnson, dean of the College of Science and a distinguished professor of statistics. “Not only is he a preeminent researcher, but he has also been an outstanding teacher and mentor, both for undergraduate and graduate students.”

Originally from Baton Rouge, La., Darensbourg earned his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1968. Prior to coming to Texas A&M in 1982, he held faculty appointments at both State University of New York, Buffalo (1969-1973) and Tulane University (1973-1982).

To learn more about Darensbourg and his research, teaching and service, go to https://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/djd/.

This article by Shana Hutchins originally appeared on the College of Science website.

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