Chemistry Professor Paul F. Barbara, 57, one of The University of Texas at Austin’s most prominent scientists, died on Oct. 31 due to complications following cardiac arrest.
Barbara held the Richard J. V. Johnson Welch Regents’ Chair in Chemistry. He received many awards and accolades throughout his career, beginning with a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1984. In 2009, he was awarded the E. Bright Wilson Award in Spectroscopy by the American Chemical Society, recognizing his innovative experimental probes of the dynamics of chemical processes. In 2006, Barbara was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious association of scientists in the nation. For 15 years he was senior editor for one of the premier chemistry journals, Accounts of Chemical Research.
Barbara’s recent research probed the molecular arrangement of individual polymer molecules in order to understand how this structure affects the molecular behavior in complex environments, such as plastic solar cells. Earlier work in his labs involved ultrafast measurements to study how electrons exchange between molecules and move through liquids. During his career, he published more than 200 influential and widely cited journal articles. He was also a mentor to more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral research fellows. Thirty-four are now professors at universities in the United States, Asia and Europe.
Barbara was a campus leader in stimulating collaborative research efforts. In 2000, he founded the university’s Center for Nano and Molecular Science and Technology, which grew from a grassroots faculty effort to become a cornerstone of nanoscience research for the university’s science and engineering community. Barbara steered the campaign for a central nanoscience facility on campus, leading in 2006 to the $37 million Nano Science and Technology building (now the Larry R. Faulkner Nano Science and Technology Building). This building houses more than $17 million in scientific equipment that is used in the research by more than 300 students and faculty each year.
In 2009 the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $13 million to a team of university faculty led by Barbara to study the fundamental chemical processes that limit the efficiency of plastic solar cell materials. This award represents the largest single program at The University of Texas at Austin to be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“This is a terrible loss for the College of Natural Sciences, the university and for me personally,” said Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “Paul was a brilliant scientist and visionary leader and was tireless in pursuit of resources and talent for our nanoscience program. He leaves a large group of students, staff, postdoctoral associates and faculty colleagues behind who were expecting to work with him for years to come. I count myself among those who relied on Paul for advice and leadership. We have lost our guiding star and a great friend.”
Barbara grew up in New York City and received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry at Hofstra University in 1974. He completed his doctor’s degree at Brown University in 1978, and pursued postdoctoral studies at Bell Laboratories until 1980. Prior to joining The University of Texas at Austin Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1998, Barbara was a faculty member for 18 years at the University of Minnesota, where he was named 3M-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.
Barbara is survived by his wife Sharon, son Jason, daughter Juliet, three grandchildren, his brother and sister.