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Royal Society Fellowship award

15 May 2009

Professor Graham Hutchings FRSProfessor Graham Hutchings FRS

Professor Graham Hutchings of the School of Chemistry has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), one of the highest honours in the academic world.

The Royal Society awards the lifetime Fellowships to the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists in the UK and the Commonwealth. The awards are widely regarded in the scientific world as second only to a Nobel Prize in prestige.

Professor Hutchings has been elected for his pioneering contributions in the use of gold for catalysis – the process for making chemical reactions go faster. He was the first to predict and subsequently demonstrate that gold would be a highly effective catalyst for ethyne hydrochlorination, thereby establishing a new field of catalysis.

His research has resulted in furthering the understanding of how catalysts can be used in filters to remove carbon monoxide. This has applications in submarines, fire fighters’ breathing apparatus and even spaceships. Professor Hutchings’ work has helped ensure such life-saving catalysts work more efficiently and with a less damaging effect on the environment.

Professor Hutchings, Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, was also Head of School for Chemistry from 1997 to 2006. He has had a long and distinguished career, devoting much of his time to the understanding and application of catalysis theory and function in methane oxidative coupling, alkane oxidation and gold catalysis.

Among his most influential work is his research which led to the invention of an efficient way of incorporating oxygen directly from the air into the hydrocarbon molecules found in oil and gas. His findings supported one of the most exciting developments of the last 20 years in this field, which recognised gold as an important new catalyst - until the 1980s gold was considered to be an inactive metal for catalysis purposes.

The gold catalysts also opened up the way to make hydrogen peroxide directly from hydrogen and oxygen. This has potential application in fine chemical synthesis as well as bleaching and cleaning applications.

University Vice-Chancellor Dr David Grant said: "I congratulate Professor Hutchings on joining the ranks of some of the most celebrated scientists in the UK. His work has made, and I am sure will continue to make, a profound impact in his field of research. He has developed innovative techniques for application in many different working environments and made a significant contribution to more sustainable chemical processes."

Professor Kingsley Cavell, Head of the School of Chemistry, said: "The announcement today of the election of Professor Graham Hutchings as a Fellow of the Royal Society is an outstanding achievement for Graham and reflects well on the School and the University. Graham is one of an elite group of scientists to receive this recognition and one of very few within the University. His impact on the School was immediate and substantial. Under his leadership the School of Chemistry was completely revitalised and it is now one of the leading School's of Chemistry in the UK and is recognised internationally as a top chemistry department."

Professor Hutchings has published a huge body of work mostly in the field of heterogeneous catalysis. These include ground-breaking papers on gold catalysis in journals such as Science and Nature, and his contributions have been recognised in the form of a substantial number of prizes and awards, the culmination of which is being made an FRS.

Professor Hutchings said: "I am extremely pleased to be elected and it is a great honour not only to myself, but also to my current and former research group members and to those who have supported me over the years."

The Professor of Physical Chemistry becomes the latest member of the University to be an elected Fellow of the Royal Society. He joins Professor Dianne Edwards, of the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Professor Sir Martin Evans, of the School of Biosciences and Professor John Pearce, of the School of Psychology. He also joins the Distinguished Research Professors, Professor Christopher Hooley of the School of Mathematics and Professor Peter Wells, Professor Duncan Dowson and John McWhirter of the School of Engineering.

Also elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society is Honorary Fellow of the University Dame Wendy Hall DBE. Dame Wendy Hall is distinguished for her contributions to understanding the interactions of humans with large-scale multimedia information systems. She is currently Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton.

Full Royal Society citation:

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, School of Chemistry, Cardiff University

Distinguished for his work on heterogeneous catalysis, pioneering the use of gold catalysts, being the first to predict and subsequently demonstrate that gold would be a highly effective catalyst for ethyne hydrochlorination, thereby establishing a new field of catalysis. He has taken a leading role in understanding the mechanisms of important C1 reactions. His early work at ICI made discoveries with oxidation catalysts that are still commercially operated. He has led use of in situ methods to determine catalyst structure during reactions and using Raman spectroscopy he demonstrated the key importance of amorphous vanadium phosphates in butane oxidation. He has pioneered enantioselective heterogeneous catalysis using electrostatically immobilised complexes providing a generic approach to the design of stable selective catalysts, and extended this to demonstrate that enantioselective reactions can occur at the gas-solid interface in the absence of solvent, providing facile operability of these complex processes.

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