Franklin Davis wins John Scott Award
As a young boy, one of chemistry professor Franklin A. Davis’ heroes was inventor Thomas Edison. Now, Davis shares something in common with his childhood hero, as both are recipients of the John Scott Award.
“I must have written a half-dozen term papers and book reports on his life and his accomplishments as I was growing up,” said Davis, a professor of organic chemistry. “To receive the same award that he got back in 1929 is a terrific thrill.”
Davis was presented with the 2006 John Scott Award during a ceremony Nov. 17 at the American Philosophical Society’s Benjamin Franklin Hall. He was honored “for his work in chemistry that opened up new experimental procedures to achieve the synthesis of important molecular structures.”
The John Scott Award is given to "the most deserving" men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the "comfort, welfare and happiness" of mankind.
Scott, an Edinburgh druggist, set up a fund in the early 1800s calling upon the “Corporation of Philadelphia entrusted with the management of Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin's legacy” to bestow upon “ingenious men or women who make useful inventions” a premium not to exceed $20 and a suitably inscribed copper medal. This year’s award carries a cash prize of $13,000.
The first awards were made in 1834 for the inventions of the knitting machine and a door lock. Through the years, the awards have been made internationally for inventions in industry, agriculture, manufacturing, science and medicine.
Since, most of the awards have gone to contributors to science and medicine, and they have recognized significant contributions in prevention of yellow fever and malaria, and in the development of penicillin and streptomycin. The recipients are a “who’s who” of science, medicine and engineering, and include Mme. Curie, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Jonas Salk, Judah Folkman, Buckminster Fuller, Igor Sikorsky, Irving Langmuir, Glenn Seaborg, Guglielmo Marconi, Willis Carrier, Edwin Land, Frederick Banting and Temple chemistry alumnus F. Albert Cotton (’51).
“I was surprised and thrilled,” said Davis about being named a recipient. “Of course, they had asked for my résumé, so I knew I had been nominated and was under consideration. But I was very surprised when I was notified that I had won, considering the other people who have received this award.”
A member of the chemistry faculty since 1995, Davis is best known for research in two new areas of chemistry that he originated, N-sulfonyloxaziridines and sulfinimines, which have resulted in new reagents that bear his name and are widely used by the chemistry community worldwide.
“The reagents that we invented create handedness in molecules, in other words right- and left-hand molecules,” explained Davis. “Right- and left-hand molecules play a vital role in biologically active systems.
“The molecules in an organism will metabolize, or chemically react, with only one of the hands, and sometimes the other hand will not react but will be extremely toxic,” he explained. “So what you need to do is have ways to prepare both the right and left hands and evaluate their biological activity. And that’s basically what we do,” Davis said. “We have invented reagents that can synthesize with either the right- or left-hand molecules, which is referred to as asymmetric synthesis.”
Davis said the Scott Award continues the recognition for the work being done by his research group, one of the largest research groups in the College of Science and Technology.
“This is also important recognition for my post-docs, graduate students and the undergraduates who’ve worked with me,” Davis said. “Without great students who extend the chemistry to make these discoveries and allow us to go in new directions, none of this would be possible.
“And of course, it’s great recognition for the chemistry department and for Temple University,” Davis said.
The Scott Award is the second major award for Davis this year. He earlier received the 2006 Arthur C. Cope Scholars Award by the American Chemical Society, which recognizes excellence in organic chemistry and is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards in the field of chemistry.
— Preston M. Moretz