International Union of Crystallography Elects UB Chemistry Professor As President

Release Date: October 13, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Philip Coppens, Ph.D., distinguished professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, has been elected president of the International Union of Crystallography, the body that brings together 38 national crystallographic organizations, encompassing about 10,000 crystallographers worldwide.

Since the international union was formed in 1948, the position of president has been held by some of crystallography's most esteemed scientists, including Nobel laureates.

As president, Coppens assumes responsibilities for the union's activities, scientific meetings and publications, including five leading crystallographic journals.

His three-year term runs until August 1996.

Crystallography is a major scientific technique that provides, among other things, the structural information necessary to develop important new pharmaceuticals. Because of rapid advances in recent years, it has dramatically enhanced what scientists know about the atomic structure of superconductors, polymers, large biological molecules and a wide range of other materials, said Coppens.

In the 1960s, he added, it became possible to determine the detailed atomic arrangement in a protein, but such studies were enormously time-consuming and would take years of work. Now, more than 1,300 protein structures have been solved and the number is increasing by close to 50 structures per month, with the total number of structures solved expected to be in the tens of thousands by the end of the century.

A UB faculty member since 1968, Coppens also is principal investigator for the State University of New York beamline at the National Synchotron Light Source located at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. In 1989, he received the highest French national university honor for foreign scholars, Doctor Honoris Causa, from the University of Nancy. He has been a visiting professor at Fordham University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Grenoble in France. He has lectured extensively around the world and will be on a lecture tour of Japan in January 1994.

Coppens has pioneered studies of the use of X-ray diffraction techniques to study the nature of bonding between atoms in molecules and crystals. He has used complex mathematical techniques to develop an X-ray method of "seeing" the electron clouds that surround atoms and hold them together to form molecules. Coppens' methods are now considered to be classic standards for such analysis and are being applied in laboratories across the world.

In 1989, Coppens' research team was the first to determine the nature of small atomic distortions in certain types of high-temperature superconducting crystals, which affect the temperature at which the materials become superconducting.

Recently, he and his postdoctoral research associates, Mark R. Pressprich and Mark A. White, completed the first diffraction study ever done of a molecule in an electronically excited state. Such experiments, which involve laser irradiation as a "pump" and an X-ray beam as a "probe," give novel information on the way molecules behave in chemical reactions.

Last year, Coppens was the principal author of the book "Synchotron Radiation Crystallography" (London: Academic Press), one of the first books describing the use of highly intense X-ray beams from a synchrotron source in crystallographic experiments.

Coppens has served as president and vice president of the American Crystallographic Association and served several terms as a member of the U.S. National Committee for Crystallography of the National Academy of Sciences. He is a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.

The author of 200 technical papers and articles, Coppens also has conducted research at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovoth, Israel.

He is a resident of Williamsville.

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Tel: 716-645-4605