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Coppens receives award

Ewald Prize recognizes contributions to crystallography

Published: February 17, 2005

Contributing Editor

Philip Coppens, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Henry M. Woodburn Chair of Chemistry in the UB Department of Chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Ewald Prize by the International Union of Crystallography.



The award, given once every three years to honor an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the science of crystallography, consists of a medal, a certificate and a cash award.

Coppens will be presented with the Ewald Prize during the Florence Congress Opening Ceremony of the International Union of Crystallography in August.

According to the International Union of Crystallography, Coppens is being recognized "for his contributions to developing the fields of electron density determination and the crystallography of molecular excited states, and for his contributions to the education and inspiration of young crystallographers as an enthusiastic teacher by participating in and organizing many courses and workshops."

A UB faculty member since 1968, Coppens has pioneered studies of the use of X-ray-diffraction techniques to study the nature of bonding between atoms in molecules and crystals by studying the distribution of electrons in a crystal. A workshop on the subject at UB attracted equal numbers of U.S. and international participants.

Coppens and his coworkers have played a major role in developing and maintaining the XD non-commercial software program, which applies knowledge about chemical bonds to X-ray crystallography and, conversely, extracts such knowledge from X-ray crystallographic measurements.

Now being used in more than 120 laboratories worldwide, XD helps scientists more clearly define boundaries between atoms, providing a way to calculate properties of molecules and how they stick together, information critical to the understanding of drug-substrate interactions.

In recent work, the Coppens research group has been developing methods for time-resolved diffraction, which gives information on species that exist for very short times. The group reported success in overcoming one of the field's most formidable challenges, capturing the first structures of high-energy states of molecules that exist for just millionths of a second. Such states play a crucial role in such processes as photosynthesis.

Coppens coined the word "photocrystallography" for the technique, which uses intense laser pulses timed to coincide with X-ray pulses to reveal the structure of highly reactive molecules in these transient states.

Chemical Communications cited the UB research as one of its "hot papers."

A recipient of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' prestigious Gregori Aminoff Prize, Coppens also is a former president of the International Union of Crystallography.

He has received the highest French national university honor for foreign scholars, Doctor Honoris Causa, from the University of Nancy and is a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.

Coppens has served as president and vice president of the American Crystallographic Association, and was the recipient of the association's Buerger Award. He served several terms as a member of the U.S. National Committee for Crystallography of the National Academy of Sciences.

He also was selected as the first winner of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute's David Harker Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of the science of crystallography.