White House Group

Jan Achenbach, Tobin Marks, University President Henry S. Bienen, and Patrick G. Ryan, chair of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees


Achenbach and Bush

Jan Achenbach and President George W. Bush
(White House photo by Eric Draper)


National Medal of Science

National Medal of Science

Achenbach and Marks receive National Medal of Science

Two McCormick faculty members — Jan Achenbach and Tobin Marks — were awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science at a July 2007 ceremony at the White House. Marks and Achenbach are the first Northwestern recipients of the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research.

The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields — including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences — that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by Congress in 1959.

"Jan Achenbach and Tobin Marks exemplify the best that McCormick has to offer: pioneers who have made strong contributions to their field and to our world. We are proud to count them as members of our faculty," says Dean Julio M. Ottino.

Jan Achenbach, Walter P. Murphy Professor and Distinguished McCormick School Professor of the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, was honored for his seminal contributions to engineering research and education in the area of wave propagation in solids and for pioneering the field of quantitative non-destructive evaluation.

"Applied science is the lifeblood of modern society. I have found it very rewarding to work at the interface of science and engineering and to use known and new science in technological applications," says Achenbach.

Achenbach joined Northwestern in 1963. He is a preeminent researcher in solid mechanics and quantitative nondestructive evaluation and has made major contributions in the field of propagation of mechanical disturbances in solids.

Achenbach's work has been both analytical and experimental. He has achieved important results in quantitative non-destructive evaluation of materials, damage mechanisms in composites, and vibrations of complex structures and has developed methods for flaw detection and characterization by ultrasonic scattering methods. He also has achieved valuable results on earthquake mechanisms, the mechanical behavior of composite materials under dynamic loading conditions, and the vibrations of solid propellant rockets.

Achenbach is the founder of Northwestern's Center for Quality Engineering and Failure Prevention, a state-of-the-art laboratory for quality control in structural mechanics that has had a profound impact on the aircraft industry, particularly the monitoring of aging aircraft.

Achenbach was awarded the 2003 National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technological innovation. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1982, the National Academy of Sciences in 1992, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994. In 1999 he was made a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. He is also an honorary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Acoustical Society of America, Society of Engineering Science, American Academy of Mechanics, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His awards include the Timoshenko Medal and the William Prager Medal.
Tobin Marks, professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick and Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was honored for his pioneering research in the areas of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, organo-f-element chemistry, new electronic and photonic materials, and diverse areas of coordination and solid-state chemistry.
"I'm fascinated by the knowledge-based design of striking new substances to perform heretofore impossible functions that ultimately improve the quality of human life. To my students and me, scientific research is an exciting adventure," says Marks.

Marks's research focuses on the design, synthesis, and in-depth characterization of new substances having important chemical, physical, and/or biological properties. His work is credited with having major impact on contemporary catalysis, with seminal research in the areas of organo-f-element homogeneous catalysis, metal-ligand bonding energetics, supported organometallic catalysis, and metallocene polymerization catalysis.
Marks, who joined Northwestern in 1970, is a leader in the development and understanding of single-site olefin polymerization catalysis (now a multibillion dollar industry) as well the study of new materials having remarkable electrical, mechanical, interfacial, and photonic properties. He designed a cocatalyst that led to what is now a standard process for producing better polyolefins, including polyethylene and polypropylene. Found in everything from sandwich wrap to long underwear, these versatile and inexpensive plastics are lighter in weight and more recyclable than previous plastics.
In his molecular optoelectronics work Marks designs arrays of "smart" molecules that self-assemble into, or spontaneously form, structures that can conduct electricity, switch a light on and off, detect light, and turn sunlight into electricity. These structures could lead to the world's most versatile and stable light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and to flexible "plastic" transistors.
During his career Marks has received numerous awards, including some of the most prestigious national and international awards in the fields of inorganic, catalytic, materials, and organometallic chemistry. Recent honors include the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal, the John C. Bailar Medal from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Sir Edward Frankland Prize Lectureship of the British Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Karl Ziegler Prize of the German Chemical Society.
Marks also is recipient of three American Chemical Society national awards and the ACS Chicago Section's 2001 Josiah Willard Gibbs Medal, regarded by many as the highest award given to chemists next to the Nobel Prize. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993.
—Gina Myerson