UTEP Professor Instrumental in Bringing Nobel Laureate to Centennial Lecture Series

Luis Echegoyen, Ph.D., has invited his dear friend to deliver a speech at a university before. But it’s never been this momentous.

The friend in question is Sir Fraser Stoddart.

Stoddart, a Nobel laureate and professor of chemistry, will present a free public lecture Feb. 1, 2018, as part of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Lecture Series.

Stoddart is a board of trustees professor in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Bernard L. Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage in 2016 for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. His lecture is titled, “My Journey to Stockholm.”

His visit to UTEP is largely the product of a friendship he formed with Echegoyen, a research professor and the Robert A. Welch Chair in UTEP’s chemistry department, nearly three decades ago when the pair was working in the field of supramolecular chemistry.

Echegoyen said he met Stoddart for the first time during a visit to Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, where the future Nobel winner worked at the University of Sheffield from 1970 to 1990.

“In the 1980s, supramolecular chemistry was big time,” Echegoyen said. “Fraser Stoddart was just getting started. He had worked in industry, making some compounds for applications in agriculture. That’s when I met him. We became good friends.”

Echegoyen said they remained good friends through the years even though he left the field to pursue other opportunities. Echegoyen and his wife, Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., research associate professor and director of UTEP’s Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives, even invited Stoddart to speak at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, in the mid-1990s when the couple lived there.

The most recent invitation went a bit differently.

Upon learning his friend had won the Nobel Prize, Echegoyen immediately emailed Stoddart to offer his congratulations.

While he waited on Stoddart’s acknowledgement, Echegoyen had a thought: “I should invite him to speak here,” he said. Echegoyen didn’t think a visit to El Paso would be possible given Stoddart’s newfound fame. But he soon would be surprised.

“This time, he replied immediately,” Echegoyen said. “He said, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’”

Months of organizing and planning ensued. Stoddart’s visit to campus will come after stops at Stanford University and in Singapore and Australia. He had to decline another speaking engagement in order to be in El Paso. The result, Echegoyen said, will be a unique opportunity to hear from one of the world’s greatest minds.

“It’s special,” Echegoyen said. “It’s not every day you can hear a Nobel Prize winner speak. I think faculty, students and high school students interested in science will get a lot out of hearing him speak. These Nobel laureates, they are literally superstars. He’s highly sought out. On top of everything, he’s a spectacular speaker. I know he will give a great presentation.”

Stoddart was awarded the prize for work he conducted in 1991 to develop a rotaxane, a mechanically interlocked molecular architecture. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated, “The development of computing demonstrates how the miniaturization of technology can lead to a revolution. The 2016 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have miniaturized machines and taken chemistry to a new dimension.”

Stoddart’s introduction of this new type of bond, known as the mechanical bond, has vaulted chemists to the forefront of the growing field of molecular nanotechnology, with implications ranging all the way from information technology to health care.

Stoddart obtained all his degrees from the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. He spent time at Queen’s University at Kingston in Canada, Imperial Chemical Industries’ corporate laboratory, the University of Sheffield in England and the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States in 1997 to work at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became the Saul Winstein Professor of Chemistry.

In 2007, he was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to chemistry and molecular nanotechnology by Queen Elizabeth II in her New Year’s Honors List. Stoddart is a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Chemistry. His many awards include the King Faisal International Prize in Science, the Albert Einstein World Prize in Nanotechnology, the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Centennial Lecture Series invites noteworthy speakers to the UTEP campus to share their perspectives on a broad range of contemporary issues that are likely to impact our society, culture and lives in the years ahead.

Make plans

What: Centennial Lecture: “My Journey to Stockholm” by Sir Fraser Stoddart

When: 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018

Where: Undergraduate Learning Center, Room 106, UTEP campus

Author: Pablo Villa – UTEP Communications