Tolman Award

alison butler

Announcing the 2022 Richard C. Tolman Award Recipient:

Professor Alison Butler
University of California, Santa Barbara

We’ll be honoring Professor Butler at the
Richard C. Tolman Award Dinner



Prof. Butler is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She works on bioinorganic chemistry and metallobiochemistry. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1997), the American Chemical Society (2012), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019), and the Royal Society of Chemistry (2019). She was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2022.

Prof. Butler studied at Reed College, graduating in 1977. She started in immunology, but moved into chemistry to work with transition metals. She worked with Professor Tom Dunne on an intramolecular electron transfer study: The Reduction of Pyrazinepentaaminecobalt (III) by Chromium (II). She earned her Ph.D. at University of California, San Diego in 1982 under Robert G. Linck and Teddy G. Traylor.

Prof. Butler worked as a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Los Angeles with Joan S. Valentine and at California Institute of Technology with Harry B. Gray. She was appointed to the faculty at University of California, Santa Barbara in 1986. Here she was awarded an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award. She was awarded the 34th University of California, Santa Barbara Harold J. Plous Award.

She looks to discover new siderophores, small molecules that bind iron in microorganisms. She uses genomics and bioinformatics to predict new siderophore structures. She explores how siderophores adhere to mica and looks at how they can promote surface colonisation. She identified that siderophores become sticky when wet, which may help to develop underwater adhesives. Her current research considers the uptake of microbial iron, vanadium haloperoxidases in microbial quorum sensing and cryptic halogenation, bioinspired wet adhesion using catechol compounds, and the oxidative disassembly of lignin. Her research into the bioinorganic chemistry of iron is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. She studies how transition metal ions are used by marine organisms.

In 2012, she became the President of the Society for Biological Inorganic Chemistry and served until 2014. She was made a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in July 2012. She delivered the 2016 Douglas Eveleigh Endowed Lecture at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology. In 2018, she was awarded the American Chemical Society Alfred Bader Award for her work on siderophores. In 2019, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received the American Chemical Society’s Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award for excellence in organic chemistry, and received the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Inorganic Mechanisms Award. Prof. Butler also received the 2019-2020 Faculty Research Lecturer Award, the highest honor that University of California, Santa Barbara faculty can bestow on their members.



The Tolman Medal is awarded each year by the Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society in recognition of outstanding contributions to chemistry. These contributions may include achievements in fundamental studies; achievements in chemical technology; significant contributions to chemical education; or outstanding leadership in science on a national level. The nominee need not be a Southern California resident; however, most of the award-related accomplishments must have been made in this area.

The Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society and the Tolman Award Committee are now seeking nominations for the next award. There is no official nominating form for this award; nominations are accepted from any member of this Section or of cooperating Sections. The nomination package should include:

  • an up-to-date curriculum vitae or resume of the candidate
  • letters of support from colleagues in the profession describing the candidate’s major achievements
  • if the candidate is being considered for outstanding teaching, letters of support from former students should be included.

Nomination Packages should be electronically transmitted to the Chair of the Tolman Committee at office-at-scalacs-dot-org (preferred method). We are also deleting the requirement for copies of publications. Rather, a list of representative publications would suffice. The deadline for receipt of nominations is November 15 each year. Please submit nominations and supporting documents to:

Chairperson of the Tolman Award Committee
c/o Southern California Section, ACS
2700 East Foothill Blvd #209
Pasadena, CA 91107
Inquiries should be directed to the Chairperson at (310) 327-1216 or via e-mail at office-at-scalacs-dot-org. A list of winners appended here demonstrates the caliber of awardee sought by the committee.

List of Prior Tolman Medal Recipients

*Nobel Laureate

About Richard C. Tolman by Dr. Kenneth Trueblood

Richard Chase Tolman, for whom the Tolman Award was named, was born March 4, 1881, in West Newton, Massachusetts. Early in his career, he demonstrated that the electron was the charge-carrying particle in metals and determined its mass, but he was known later primarily as a theorist. He was a professor of Physical Chemistry and Mathematical Physics at Caltech, and, in the words of Thomas Hager in his fine biography of Linus Pauling, in the 1920s Tolman epitomized the spirit of the graduate program: clear, critical, and focused on the cutting edge of research. Caltech had been founded in 1919, by Hale, Millikan, and Noyes. In 1922, the 21-year-old Linus Pauling came from Oregon to do graduate work in chemistry and was introduced to quantum theory by Tolman (to the Bohr-Sommerfeld theory, since this was before the introduction of wave mechanics). Tolman wrote a tome on Statistical Mechanics and taught that subject to generations of Caltech students, but he was probably best known for his masterful treatise “Relativity, Thermodynamics, and Cosmology”, the lectures which first introduced many students to tensors, as well as to some of the mysteries of general relativity. The final paragraph of that formidable work illustrates well Tolman’s style, character, and philosophy:

“It is appropriate to approach the problems of cosmology with feelings of respect for their importance, of awe for their vastness, and of exultation for the temerity of the human mind in attempting to solve them. They must be treated, however, by the detailed, critical, and dispassionate methods of a scientist.”

And that is the way those privileged to have listened to him remember him. He was a superbly organized and thoughtful lecturer, who insisted on having the lecture room to himself for the hour before his lecture. When the students arrived, the board would be covered with a neat and logical outline of his lecture. He would be sitting on a stool at the front, puffing on his pipe, and would start lecturing. As he spoke, and one wondered “How can that be?”, it usually turned out that the next topic he turned to, outlined on the board, gave the answer. He often engaged students in discussion and there were many brilliant students in his classes.

Although Tolman was the senior chemistry faculty member after A.A. Noyes’ death in 1936, he was by then really more concerned with cosmology than with physical chemistry. He was not interested in administration, so Linus Pauling, then in his mid-thirties, became the Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. During WWII, Tolman was chief science advisor to General Leslie Groves, who supervised the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. After the war, he worked on the peaceful uses of atomic energy and control of nuclear weapons as the chief advisor to Bernard Baruch, the US representative to the UN’s Atomic Energy Commission. Richard Tolman died in Pasadena on September 5, 1948.