Department of Chemistry Biochemistry


Spencer Silver, chemistry alumnus, receives College Hall of Fame Award


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU held its annual awards and hall of fame luncheon last Friday in the alumni lounge of the Memorial Union. This year the Alumni Hall of Fame Award went to Spencer Silver, a graduate of our department. (Shown in the figures are Dr. Spencer Silver, Dean Quentin Wheeler presenting the award, and Dr. Silver with his wife and Dr. William Petuskey, chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.)

Spencer Silver earned an ASU bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1962 and a doctorate in 1966 from the University of Colorado. He was a 3M scientist when he invented a microsphere adhesive, comprised of tiny bubbles, that caused the substance to stick only slightly to surfaces. Years later, 3M colleague Art Fry came up with a practical use for the glue - Post-it® Notes.

In recent years, with more than two dozen patents to his credit, Silver has turned his creative energy to art and is an accomplished painter in pastels and oils.

"My desire is to find an artistic bridge between the practical and theoretical aspects of chemistry and the allegorical and fantasy world of images from plants and landscape," he writes on his Web site With a laboratory that is now a studio, Silver says of his art: "You will see lots of trees, leaves, flowers and whirly things with dots and dashes that try to deal with chemistry in a non-deterministic way."

In 2004, Silver was selected to the University of Colorado Heritage Center's "Hall of Excellence." He also is the 1998 recipient of the Award for Creative Invention from the American Chemical Society, which is given to an inventor for the successful application of research in chemistry or chemical engineering that contributes to the material prosperity and happiness of people.

Dr. Silver has been published in numerous and varied professional and peer-reviewed journals, interviewed on NPR, and profiled in many articles. In 1995 he was invited to The White House to receive the National Medal of Technology Award.

Upon accepting the award Silver reminisced about memorable times when he worked in the laboratory of Duane Brown (Professor of Chemistry at ASU :1951-'83) performing various analyses on germanium, gallium and gold. He also said that attending ASU in the '60s was "like going to school in a construction zone", and he's "glad to see that nothing's changed!"

Elizabeth McCullum, recipient of $100,000 postdoctoral fellowship

Elizabeth McCullum is the 2008-2009 recipient of the two-year $100,000 postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the National Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. She is a cancer researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. A panel of cancer specialists reviewed applications from throughout the country before selecting Dr. McCullum, who earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry/nanotechnology from our department in spring 2009 under the tutelage of John Chaput.

Dr. McCullum's research project focuses on developing a new strategy to combat drug-resistant breast cancer. She works in a lab which has proposed the novel concept of disrupting the normal association of a complex of proteins called cohesion that cells require for successful cell division. Dr. McCullum will try a unique molecular screening process to identify small protein fragments that block this formation, leading to abnormal separation of genetic material in the rapidly growing cancer cells, in the hope of triggering their self-destruction. Once the protein is identified, Dr. McCullum will design a nanoparticle delivery system, which will hold the peptide inhibitors to target and destroy breast cancer cells. While early-stage breast cancer often has a good prognosis, the five-year survival rate is only 50 percent for local advanced breast cancer with multimodal therapy. The majority of women who relapse after therapy for early stage or local advanced disease often have metastatic disease, and their five-year survival rate is only 5-10 percent. Thus the urgent need for new approaches to improve disease-free survival for patients with recurrences, approaches that ultimately reduce the incidence of long-term, treatment-related complications in all patients. By the conclusion of her fellowship, Dr. McCullum expects to have designed a class of therapeutic drugs that can effectively disrupt chromosomal cohesion, stop cells from multiplying and trigger cell death in treatment of breast cancer cells. In addition to the fellowship, research grants totaling $175,000 have been presented by the Ladies Auxiliary to institutions around the country during the past year.

Financial assistance is also given to cancer-stricken Auxiliary members in their personal battles against the disease. During 2008-2009, more than 3,000 grants totaling $1,430,600 were distributed; more than $50 million in grants have aided members with cancer over the past 58 years.

In addition to fighting cancer, the 550,000 members of the Auxiliary award scholarships to students, volunteer in hospitals, protect veterans' entitlements, promote good citizenship, and provide care packages as well as prepaid long-distance telephone cards to troops deployed in the War on Terror. For more information, go to

Gary Dirks, department alumnus, to lead LightWorks solar research initiative...

ASU has selected Gary Dirks as director of LightWorks, a new initiative to position the university as a leader in solar-based energy and other light-inspired research. Dirks is the former president of BP Asia-Pacific and BP China. LightWorks will capitalize on ASU's unique strengths in renewable energy fields including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels and next-generation photovoltaics. LightWorks will eventually broaden to include other light-based projects, such as lasers for biomedical applications and energy-efficient lighting.

"Gary Dirks will help position Arizona nationally and globally as a leader in renewable energy and light-based research," says ASU President Michael Crow. "Gary's broad range of experience will help us meet President Obama's challenge to lead a green revolution and develop clean sources of energy."

Dirks received his doctorate in chemistry from ASU in 1980. He was the first doctoral student to work with Devens Gust, Thomas Moore and Ana Moore in ASU's Center for the Study of Early Events in Photosynthesis (now the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis).

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