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MU Researcher Leads Developments in Pharmaceuticals and Energy Storage

Jerry Atwood recognized as an AAAS Fellow for contributions to chemistry research

December 10th, 2014

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Chemistry is a branch of physical science studying composition, structure and properties of matter. With decades of study and a deep understanding of the field, Jerry Atwood, a researcher at the University of Missouri, is a prolific chemist who has guided the study of molecules and how they interact in the physical world. His discoveries have led to new ways of developing drugs more efficiently and better fuel storage capabilities. Atwood is considered a founding father in the field of supramolecular chemistry, or what he describes as “chemistry beyond the molecule.”

For distinguished contributions to the fields of inorganic, organometallic and materials chemistry, including innovations and advances in chemical crystallography and supramolecular chemistry, Atwood has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year, 401 members were awarded the honor by AAAS due to their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

“This national award recognizes scientists from all areas for their life-long contributions to their field” Atwood said. “I can’t think of another chemistry department in the country where three fellows were named at the same time. I am honored to be in the company of these other great chemists here at Mizzou.”

Atwood’s accomplishments are significant. In 1969, he first discovered liquid clathrates. This work provided major underpinnings for what is now called “green” or “environmentally friendly” chemistry. In 1997, he discovered a way to make nanocapsules, which may eventually lead to better delivery methods for chemotherapy in cancer patients. In 2002, Atwood discovered materials useful for storing hydrogen and methane. This created the potential for storing alternative fuels.

To develop basic drugs that are safe for human consumption, manufacturers must have knowledge of the chemistry involved to create specific crystals that constitute the eventual compound. Current drug development methods may include high-temperature heating, raw material altering, washing, filtering, and intensive drying. Atwood’s team found that pressurizing carbon dioxide can bring about the desired crystallization easier and at normal room temperatures. The discovery has the potential to streamline work flow and provide more safety for those who work with these chemicals.

“Our lab pioneered the study of supramolecular chemistry, which is focused on molecular biology and medicine,” said Atwood, Curators Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Science at MU. “It refers to the way molecules react with other molecules and is aimed at trying to understand life processes: the way we think, the way we interact with the physical world, and what the molecules have to be doing for these processes to occur.”

As a pioneer in supramolecular chemistry, Atwood has authored 11 volumes focused on the field as well as an encyclopedia and textbook. He has authored more than 700 peer-reviewed articles in his career, and his work has been cited more than 36,000 times.

The h-index ranks researchers based on their total number of published articles and the number of times those articles are cited in other people’s publications. An h value of 20 is a sign of success and one of 40 indicates an outstanding scientist likely to be found only at a major research laboratory. Atwood’s h value is 91.

Atwood holds a Bachelor of Science from the Southwest Missouri State University and a doctoral degree from the University of Illinois. He has received numerous awards over his distinguished career, which include: Curators’ Professor, MU 1999; President’s Award for Research and Creativity, MU 2000; Izatt-Christensen International Macrocyclic Chemistry Award, 2000; Polish Academy of Science, Elected Foreign Member 2000; Alumni-Faculty Award, MU 2002;  Royal Society of Chemistry, Elected Fellow, 2005; Honorary Medal of the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, 2005; Midwest Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society, 2005; Distinguished Faculty Alumni Award, MU 2010; Supramolecular Chemistry Award, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012; Honorary Doctorate in Science, University of South Florida, 2013; and the International Award, Materials Engineering for Resources, Society of Materials Engineering in Japan 2013. Atwood has also been instrumental in reviewing and publishing many scientific papers.  He has served as co-editor in chief of the New Journal of Chemistry; associate editor, Chemical Communications; editor of the Journal of Supramolecular Chemistry; editor of Supramolecular Chemistry; consulting editor and editor, Journal of Chemical Crystallography; and, editor, Journal of Inclusion Phenomena.