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Nobel Laureate Delivers 2007 Tripathy Lecture

Robert Grubbs Discusses Metathesis Method of Synthesis

California Institute of Technology’s Robert Grubbs, middle, delivered the 2007 Konarka Sukant K. Tripathy Endowed Memorial Lecture in October. With him are, from left, Assoc. Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney, Prof. Daniel Sandman, Dean Robert Tamarin, and Prof. Jayant Kumar.

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The late Sukant K. Tripathy was an internationally recognized leader in research in the area of thin polymer films in electronics and optics, publishing more than 200 refereed papers and holding two dozen patents. A UMass Lowell professor of chemistry, he founded and served as director of the Center for Advanced Materials and was formerly the University’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Tripathy passed away in December 2000 in a swimming accident in Hawaii, while attending a conference. Each year, around the time of his death, a leading scientist in the field of materials science comes to UML to present a lecture in his memory.

The speaker at this year’s Konarka Sukant K. Tripathy Endowed Memorial Lecture was Robert Grubbs, a professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, who spoke on “Synthesis of Molecules and Materials Using Olefin Metathesis,” His seminal research on the development of a stable catalyst for metathesis reactions used in organic synthesis won him a share of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

“Olefin metathesis provides a new method for the synthesis of new compounds that are being used for new pharmaceuticals and plastics,” says Grubbs. Thanks to his work and those of other researchers, the process is now more efficient, simpler to use and more environmentally friendly. 

Grubbs joins a growing list of Nobel laureates and leading figures in materials science research who have delivered the memorial lecture. This includes Profs. Alan MacDiarmid and Alan Heeger, who were co-winners of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and development of electrically conductive polymers, and Robert Langer, George Whitesides and Edwin Thomas.

Earlier, the lectureship was co-sponsored by the Tripathy family and the Center for Advanced Materials. This year, Konarka Technologies donated an additional $25,000 to the endowment fund, which was matched by the UMass system. Konarka is a world leader in developing technology and applications for low-cost, flexible photovoltaic polymers.

“It’s a wonderful series remembering a major contributor to materials science,” says Grubbs. “It’s good that his colleagues and family can attend and remain part of the process. [Tripathy] was a major visionary for the University and the field of materials science.”

Other activities honoring the professor’s memory include the Tripathy Summer Graduate Fellowship, which is awarded to doctoral students for outstanding research in the fields of materials and polymer sciences, and the Tripathy Symposium, which showcases the latest advances in the field each year.

This year’s symposium was held Nov. 30 at Wannalancit Mills. For more information, visit