2000 Nobel Laureate to Launch UA Optics Valley Lecture Series Nov. 9

Lori Stiles
Nov. 1, 2000

A physicist who shares this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery and development of plastics that conduct electricity will give the first lecture in the University of Arizona's new Optics Valley Lecture Series.

Alan J. Heeger of the University of California Santa Barbara will talk at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in Room 204 of the Chemistry/Biological Sciences (Henry Koffler) Building . His talk, titled "Twenty-Five Years of Conducting Polymers: From Discovery to Commercial Products," is free and open to the public. An invitation-only reception in Flandrau Science Center follows.

Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid of the University of Pennsylvania, and Hideki Shirakawa of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, share the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their revolutionary discovery in the late 1970s that plastic can be modified to conduct electricity. Their seminal work launched an important new research field in chemistry, physics and materials science, and spawned important practical applications now coming to market.

"Dr. Heeger's Nobel Prize is well-deserved," said UA chemistry Professor Jean-Luc Bredas, adding that the honor came as no surprise. Bredas, who invited Heeger to lecture at UA before this Nobel was announced Oct. 10, has collaborated with Heeger since the early 1980s.

Plastics are synthetic polymers, or molecules that repeat their structure regularly in long chains. They are valued for their flexibility and their light weight - and for the fact that they're usually cheap to make. But until 20 years ago, few dreamed that plastic could conduct electricity.

In 1977, Heeger, MacDiarmid and Shirakawa together discovered that exposing polyacetylene film to iodine vapor makes it electrically conductive. Over the next decade, they and their associates as well as other groups developed the process so that some plastics now conduct electricity nearly as well as copper does, Bredas said.

Heeger, physics professor at UC Santa Barbara, and founder and director of the university's Institute for Polymers and Organic Solids, has encouraged development of these novel polymers into stable materials suitable for use by industry in a wide range of applications. He is co-founder and chief scientist at UNIAX Corp, a firm that focuses on bringing plastic electronics into commercial products.

Conductive plastics are used in, or are being developed industrially, for anti-static photographic film - like film currently marketed by Agfa, for shields for computer screens against electromagnetic radiation, and for "smart" or "electrochromic" windows that cut down sunlight on over-bright days.

Conducting polymers and semi-conducting polymers promise revolutionary applications in the emerging field of "plastic electronic devices," which already include diodes, photo diodes, light-emitting diodes and transistors at a fraction of the cost of silicon based semiconductors.

Heeger's work centers on studies of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), light-emitting electrochemical cells (LECs) and lasers, all made from semi-conducting polymers.
He was the first to make fully flexible, large-area LED displays that might be used, for example, as shine-in-the-dark wall panels to light exit paths through buildings during a power failure. His work leads to such futuristic applications as a wristwatch that not only gives you the time, but monitors your heart beat rate, serves as a cell phone or a miniature TV and tells you your exact location in Global Positioning System coordinates.

Heeger, 64, was born in Sioux City, Iowa and is married with two children. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the faculty at UCSB in 1982. He was also visiting professor at the University of Geneva and University of Utah. He has won numerous awards including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship; Switzerland's Balzan Prize for the Science of New Materials; the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship; Fellow of the American Physical Society; among many others.

Bredas organized the University's new Optics Valley Lecture Series with support from UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz. Bredas chairs the lecture series committee of faculty from chemistry, physics, astronomy, applied mathematics, engineering and optical sciences.

(EDITORS: Interviews with Heeger on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 9, can be arranged in advance through Jean -Luc Bredas of the chemistry department, or through Lori Stiles in UA News Services, 520-626-4402, stiles@uanews.org)


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