In the estimation of the American Institute of Chemists, Harry Gray's studies of electron transfer have outpaced those of all his competitors to earn him a Gold Medal this year. Gray, the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology, has been selected to receive AIC's 1990 Gold Medal.
Gray, 54, was cited by AIC for his studies of inorganic chemistry and chemical reactions involved in electron transfer, a fundamental process that is responsible for energy storage and conversion in all living cells. "It's an extremely nice honor," says Gray. "The people who have gotten this are great chemists [and people whom] I respect very much. They are all outstanding scientists."
Gray's experiments have shown that electrons can jump across at least 30 atoms in a large protein molecule in less than one millionth of a second. "[Previously] people believed reactions involved short ranges of transfer," he says. "We showed that electrons travel over large distances in proteins."
This research affects many scientific issues, including computer miniaturization, energy storage, and the effort to develop an artificial counterpart of photosynthesis, the process by which plants gain energy from sunlight. Gray summarized his work in electron-transfer in proteins in Biochemistry (28:7499-505, 1989).
Another area of specialty is his work with artificial photosynthesis. He explained the design and engineering of artificial photosynthesis in Science (247:1069, 1990). He is currently combining methods of molecular biology, genetic engineering, and inorganic chemistry to further his studies of electron transfer.
Gray received his B.S. from Western Kentucky State University in 1957. He began his experimental work in inorganic chemistry at Northwestern University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1960. After doing research on ligand field theory as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen from 1960 to 1961, he went to Columbia University, where he became a full professor in 1965.
The AIC gold medalist moved to Caltech in 1966, and has been a professor of chemistry there since 1966. He was chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from 1978 to 1984. In 1986, he was appointed director of the Beckman Institute.
The chemist has received more than two dozen honors and awards, including the E.C. Franklin Memorial Award in 1967, the Harrison Howe Award in 1972, the American Chemical Society Award in Inorganic Chemistry in 1978, the Remsen Award in 1979, and the National Medal of Science in 1986. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, and in 1988, he was named California Scientist of the Year by the California Museum Foundation.