Friday, December 28, 2007

My Dad is 80!

My dad turned 80 this month, and we celebrated the event with a workshop and reception in his honor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel. The full set of pictures from the event can be seen here.

My dad is a professor of Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute. After fighting in the Israeli War of Independence, he was finally able to focus on his studies. He completed his Ph.D in a little less than 2 years(!!) in 1955 at Syracuse University in New York (fortunately, because that's where he met my mom). When he's asked how he did that, he simply shows the picture below.

He still doesn't understand why it took me an entire 5 years to do my Ph.D, and worse, in a field that uses the term 'science' in a questionable fashion. (When I got promoted to full professor he finally figured I might be doing something right).

My dad's main claim to fame is a 1-page article he wrote during his post-doc. The following makes the point better than I can - it's a quote from Krzysztof Matyjaszewski (a CMU professor) and Axel Muller (professor at the U. of Beyreuth, Germany) in their foreword to the December 2006 special issue of the Journal of Progress in Polymer Science on "50 Years of Living Polymerization":

On June 5, 1956, Michael Szwarc, together with Moshe Levy and Ralph Milkovich pubished an article entitled "Polymerization initiated by electron transfer to monomer - A new method for formation of block copolymers", J Am Chem Soc (1956), 2656.

In this article the term "living polymer" appeared for the first time. It caused a revolution in polymer science.

Michael Szwarc (who was also my dad's Ph.D adviser) received the Kyoto Prize for this work in 1991.

He has worked in many areas over the years, but since the mid-80's my dad has been one of the pioneers in solar energy research, studying methods for chemical storage of solar energy so it can be used any time and transported to less sunny locations. In fact, he published two papers on using solar energy for chemical transformations this year! As a befitting token or recognition, he received an awesome Google solar t-shirt...

And he definitely needs the t-shirt. He still gets up every morning at 6am to either play tennis, or go for a run & workout, which includes running up 15 flights of stairs in the solar tower at the institute!

It was a great event, and a wonderful chance to see many of my dad's colleagues throughout his career, some of whom I had not seen since I was a kid. It was also the first full gathering of all the family's grandchildren.