(July 15, 2019) Department of Chemistry Professor Joe Merola has been announced as a fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS). He is among 70 new fellows of the nation’s central chemistry organization and is the ninth to be honored from the department.

 "In any profession, the greatest recognition one can get is the recognition of their peers.  So I am extremely honored to have been chosen as an American Chemical Society Fellow this year. As I look at the other members of this year's Fellows (and, indeed all of the previous fellows), I am humbled to be given this recognition.  Although I am receiving this honor, I am really only the 'front person' for many, many others who have been a part of my life, both personal and professional as I have made my chemical journey:  my family, my friends, my students, my colleagues, and I am sure many others who have helped me along the way.”

Only 1-2% of the ACS’ 151,000 members are selected for the lifelong designation. Candidates are selected after careful consideration of the candidate’s documented excellence and leadership in two overarching areas: the science, the profession, education, and/or management; and volunteer service, in service to the ACS and its membership and community.

“We are elated by the news of Joe’s selection as an American Chemical Society Fellow,” said Alan Esker, Chair of the Chemistry Department at Virginia Tech.  “Joe’s selection for this highly deserved honor not only recognizes his contributions to iridium-based chemistry and catalysis, but also his leadership efforts to expand our discipline through the local Blue Ridge Section of the American Chemical Society, K-12 outreach and diversity activities.”

Prof. Merola was recognized for his substantial contributions to organometallic chemistry, chemical education and outreach, graduate and undergraduate student mentorship, and administration throughout his 30+ year career at Virginia Tech, as well as his outstanding service and contributions to ACS local and national meetings through the organization of meetings and symposia, and for the advising/mentoring of students. 

After earning his B.S. in chemistry from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1974, Prof. Merola went on to earn his Ph.D. from MIT in 1978. He initially went into industry, working for Exxon for nearly ten years before joining the department’s faculty in 1987. He was promoted to full professor in 1995 and has served as Chair of the Department of Chemistry, as Associate Dean for Research and Outreach for the former College of Arts & Sciences, Acting Dean of the Graduate School, and Senior Administrative Fellow where he was tasked with university restructuring. Most recently he served as President of the Faculty Senate and was inducted into the Academies of Faculty Service (2016) and Faculty Leadership (2019). Through all of his administrative work, Prof. Merola has also served as an advisor to the Chemistry Club (Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society) and the professional chemistry fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma.

While his service record has been exemplary, his research has been equally noteworthy. In the 1980s, the area of idenyl metal chemistry was generating a lot of interest. It was surmised that the reason for the greater reactivity of indenyl vs cyclopentadienyl was the presumed ability of the indenyl to become eta-3. In 1986, he was able to demonstrate the conversion of an eta-5 to eta-3 iridium complex including the first crystallographically determined eta-3 iridium complex. His group also investigated the chemistry of the very electron rich Iridium complex [Ir(COD)(PMe3)3]Cl complex which was capable of carrying out the oxidation of E-H bonds where E+ H, B, C, N, and O. This led to two specific discoveries. For B-H addition, his group was able to isolate Ir(B)H complexes and show how they are intermediates in hydroboration catalysis. For H-H addition, this led to a whole new area of aqueous catalysis. Now, his group is showing that transition metal organometallic complexes can contribute not only to anti-cancer chemistry, but also to anti-microbial chemistry, a property that was uncommonly reported prior to their 2013 report.

Through all of this outstanding service and research, Prof. Merola has remained committed to his teaching and mentoring of both graduate and undergraduate students. Throughout his career as a lecturer he has been an innovator, publishing on the scholarship of teaching and bringing innovative technologies into the classroom. He has also been active in outreach and has given over 100 lectures/demonstrations for K-12 students. Prof. Merola has mentored a large number of undergraduates through undergraduate research. He worked with students that may have minimal experience, motivating them and helping them achieve new levels of performance. He has won three Certificates of Teaching Excellence (1991, 1994, and 1997), received both the University Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence (1997) and the University Wine Award for Teaching Excellence (2013), and, most recently, received the Teaching/Research Faculty Award for Excellence in Access and Inclusion (2019).

Congratulations, Joe, on this spectacular achievement!

Click here to view the full list of the 2019 ACS Fellows (from C&E News)