Harry B. Gray, PhD

Nobel Conference 50
Oct. 7 & 8, 2014

Electron transfer (ET) chemist Harry B. Gray, PhD – Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and founding director of the Beckman Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

Harry Barkus Gray, PhD, is a pioneer in studies of electron transfer reactions and one of the founding parents of the field of bioinorganic chemistry. Electron transfer is perhaps the simplest chemical reaction, simply the process of transporting an electron (usually one at a time) through a molecule or between two different molecules. Electron transfer in biological systems is highly efficient and essential to processes like ATP synthesis, which generates energy for the cell. A greater understanding of biochemical electron transfer would empower scientists to build better molecular wires for energy transfer in human-designed systems like fuel cells. Gray is best known for his work on long-range electron transfer in proteins, employing the powerful approach of integrating photosensitizers within metalloprotein crystals to better understand how electrons are transported through and between protein molecules.

In recent years, Gray has turned his focus to solar energy through the NSF Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels (CCI), which includes principal investigators at 11 institutions. The group’s focus is to acquire the necessary scientific knowledge to make solar fuels a realistic option for the world’s energy needs. The research is ongoing not only in the CCI investigators’ labs but also through outreach programs. “Harry’s Solar Army” is a program that allows high school and college students to help discover and characterize materials for use in solar fuel cells. “These volunteers are under direct orders from General Harry B. Gray to join the front lines in our search for the catalysts needed…”

Gray earned his BS in chemistry from Western Kentucky University (1957). He completed his PhD under Fred Basolo and Ralph Pearson at Northwestern University (1960). From there, he earned an NSF postdoctoral fellowship with C.J. Ballhausen at the University of Copenhagen (1960–61). From 1961 to 1966 he held a faculty position at Columbia University, then in 1966 moved to the California Institute of Technology. He is currently the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry (since 1981) and founding director of the Beckman Institute.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1971), a fellow of the AAAS (1989), and an ACS Fellow (2009). He holds numerous honors, including the National Medal of Science (1986), the Pauling Medal (1986), the American Institute of Chemists gold medal (1990), the Priestley Medal of the American Chemical Society (1991), the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2004), and the Othmer Gold Medal (2013). He has published well over 700 research articles and 17 books.