Allen J. Bard is best known for his research in electrochemistry. By applying electrochemical methods to the study of chemical problems, Bard has deepened the fundamental understanding of electron-transfer reactions, fostered the development of electroanalytical methods and instruments, and opened up new areas of inquiry, such as electrogenerated chemiluminescence (ECL). His work has transformed electrochemistry so that it now permeates the traditional disciplines of analytical, physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry and biochemistry.
Allen J. Bard grew up and attended public schools in the Bronx. As a youth he was always interested in science, largely due to the influence of his older brother, Selden, and older sister, Shirley. He spent a lot of time at the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens, and in doing as many science experiments as reasonable in an apartment in New York City. This interest in science was strengthened during his attendance at the Bronx High School of Science (1948-51).
He entered The City College of the College of New York (CCNY) in January 1951 and majored in chemistry. Allen was also active in student politics and was Vice-President of the Student Council and President of the Senior Class of 1955. He worked at a number of jobs while in college, including a stint as student aide trainee at the New York Naval Shipyard (1954). Aircraft carriers were being overhauled at the shipyard, and it was Allen’s job to analyze for the oxygen content in the hydraulic fluid used in deck elevators.
Allen also worked as a flunky at the Women’s National News Service, and, during holidays and the summer, as a busboy, waiter, or camp counselor. Upon graduation in January 1955 he took a job with The General Chemical Company (a branch of Allied Chemical Company) in Morristown, NJ, commuting from the Bronx. At the time, General Chemical was developing an instant pancake batter using a propellant, Genetrons (Allied Chemical’s fluorocarbon equivalent to DuPont’s Freons), to help fluff the batter-one of Allen’s duties was to analyze for fluoride content in the pancake batter. He soon decided to try graduate school…
Allen entered Harvard University in September 1955, beginning his graduate studies with Geoffrey Wilkinson (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1973) in the then-new area of metallocene chemistry. Wilkinson was denied tenure at Harvard and left in January 1956, a rather fortunate turn of events for the analytical and physical chemistry communities, as Allen then began research in the Spring of 1956 with James J. Lingane, a former student of I. M. Kolthoff. Work with Lingane at Harvard mainly centered on electroanalytical methods. Allen’s dissertation was entitled ‘”Studies in the Electrochemistry of Tin.’” He graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in June 1958.
Allen J. Bard joined the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin in 1958. He was hired by the chemistry department chairman, Norman Hackerman, at the rank of Instructor. The department was unwilling to provide an interview trip to Austin (then something of a cow town) and was content to hire him sight unseen. He came to Austin in August 1958 to find that the office and labs were not air-conditioned and the culture very different from that of New York and Boston.
The course load for his first semester consisted of two sections of sophomore analytical chemistry and one section of a freshman chemistry-calculations class. The graduate students at this time were scarce and largely netted by the senior faculty. In fact, junior faculty could only co-direct dissertations with senior faculty. In spite of this abusive situation, he stayed and eventually some graduate students joined his group helping to enable him to earn promotion to Assistant Professor. He currently holds the Norman Hackerman/Welch Regents’ Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas.
Venturesomeness and versatility characterize Bard’s work, from seminal studies of the interaction of light with semiconductor electrodes to ECL. ECL–the generation of light through electrochemical reactions–is potentially important for displays and lighting sources. It has also led to new clinical methods for analysis of biological materials. Bard ‘”didn’t discover’” ECL, says chemistry professor Fred C. Anson at California Institute of Technology. ‘”But he exploited it and saw things that could be done with it more than anybody else did’”.
Prof. Bard’s research touches on a wide range of interactions of electronics with chemical systems, and his book ‘”Integrated Chemical Systems: A Chemical Approach to Nanotechnology’” discusses virtually all of the fundamental themes relevant to successfully constructing organic electronic devices. He has contributed fundamental science and invention to the areas of light emitting devices, batteries, polymer transistors, and solid state organic memories. Bard invented scanning electrochemical microscopy, a technique for characterizing electrochemical interfaces. An outgrowth of this work has been single-molecule detection by electrochemical means.
Bard not only has helped build the foundations of electrochemistry but also has promoted the teaching and propagation of the field. He teaches important skills by example, says former graduate student Paul A. Kohl, now a chemical engineering professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. Among those skills is the ability to describe complex concepts clearly and concisely.
Although the bulk of his career has been devoted to research and education, Bard has been serving chemistry in other important ways. Since 1982, he is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, calmly steering it through the upheavals of electronic publishing. As an editor, Bard eschews the hype and special effects that sometimes substitute for content, but he enthusiastically helps young people get published. Realizing that younger scientists are inexperienced in evaluating their own work and presenting results, he suggests ways they can refocus and rewrite a paper to make it more acceptable to reviewers.
In other public service, Bard was president of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry from 1991 to 1993 and chair of the chemistry section of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) from 1996 to 1999.
Professor Bard has been the recipient of numerous honors including: election to the National Academy of Sciences (1982), the ACS Fisher Award in Analytical Chemistry (1984), the Society of Electroanalytical Chemistry Charles N. Reilley Award (1984), the Electrochemical Society Olin-Palladium Medal (1987), the Eastern Analytical Symposium Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Analytical Chemistry (1990), election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1990), the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences (1998), the Pauling Award (1998) and election to the American Philosophical Society (1999).
He has published several books (including Electrochemical Methods, with L. Faulkner, Integrated Chemical Systems, and Chemical Equilibrium) and more than 700 papers and chapters while editing the series Electroanalytical Chemistry (21 volumes) and the Encyclopedia of the Electrochemistry of the Elements (16 volumes) and co-editing the monograph, Standard Potentials in Aqueous Solution.
That clarity of his thought is evident in the textbook ‘”Electrochemical Methods,’” which Bard coauthored in 1980 with Faulkner, another former graduate student. That book, Anson says, ‘”has been the most influential textbook in electrochemistry’” since the 1950s.