Chemistry Student Honored with Gwathmey Prize

By Melissa Maki
Lester Andrews & Jon Lyon

Lester Andrews and Jonathan Lyon after Lyon successfully defended his dissertation.

Jonathan Lyon, doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemistry, was recently awarded the Allan T. Gwathmey Memorial Award for his journal article: “Electron Deficient Carbon-Titanium Triple Bonds: Formation of Triplet XC÷TiX3 Methylidine Complexes.”

Allen T. Gwathmey was a prominent surface scientist and professor of chemistry at U.Va. from 1947-1963.  The Gwathmey Memorial Award was initiated in his honor by friends and colleagues.  Graduate students in chemistry, physics, or materials science as well as other fields of the physical sciences are eligible to apply.  The award consists of a $5,000 cash prize and is granted annually by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the best paper written on “a fundamental problem in the physical sciences.” 

In addition to winning the Gwathmey award, Lyon's article was published in a top journal in the field—Inorganic Chemistry. “Jon has probably been my best graduate student in 42 years.  He deserves this recognition,” contends Lester Andrews, professor of chemistry and co-author of the article.

Part of Lyon’s dissertation details the novel chemical reactions observed through experimentation with laser-ablated titanium atoms and CX4 molecules (C = carbon; X = fluorine and chlorine).  “The interesting thing is that we found something that we didn’t expect,” says Andrews.  “In this ground-breaking study we found a new class of compound—a new fundamental class of molecule.”  This research could have implications for the remediation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—common refrigerant materials that have played a key role in the depletion of the ozone layer.  In addition, its basic scientific contributions lay a foundation for future, significant discoveries. 

“This is an outstanding piece of work and it honors well the spirit of the Gwathmey prize,” says Aaron Mills, associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  According to Mills, applicants for the Gwathmey award were judged on the basis of originality, approach, and impact.

Lyon has now successfully defended his dissertation and will graduate this month.  He has accepted a postdoctoral research position at the Fritz-Haber Institute in Berlin, Germany where he plans to study the vibrational modes of ruthenium clusters.  Lyon will also conduct research at the Free Electron Laser for Infrared eXperiments (FELIX) in the Netherlands.  These experiments are intended to provide information on the physical geometry and possible catalytic activity of the clusters.

Lyon is originally from Traverse City, Michigan.  He completed an associate’s degree at Northwestern Michigan College and a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University prior to coming to study at U.Va. 

Prize-winning article available at:
Inorganic Chemistry 45(24):9858-9863.

More information about Alan T. Gwathmey: