Emeritus Fellow – Bob Gilbert

Prof. Bob Gilbert has been awarded the status of Emeritus Fellow in Division IV. This 2020 appointment reflects his standing as a scientist and continuing service to the Division and to the Union.

Without exaggeration one can say that Bob Gilbert has been one of the most significant figures in the history of the IUPAC Polymer Division, with his influence also extending beyond the bounds of the Division to IUPAC at large.

Bob’s IUPAC journey began as a PhD student at the Sydney Opera House in 1969, when he attended the IUPAC Congress of that year. The experience made a deep impression on him and left him partial to the work of the Union. It meant he had no hesitation in acquiescing when, just under two decades later, he was asked to chair the reinvented Subcommittee on Modeling of Polymerization Kinetics and Processes. His brief was to turn a history of epic fails into establishment of reliable experimental methods for radical polymerization kinetics that would lead to benchmark rate coefficients for such processes. Bob was able to use his charisma, energy and intellectual grunt to achieve this task, the result being a vibrant group of over 40 researchers and a series of massively cited papers, with 13 cited over 100 times and the leading paper cited over 800 times! The Subcommittee is still going strong, with Michael Buback, Greg Russell and Robin Hutchinson being its subsequent chairs.

By the time Bob stepped down from Subcommittee leadership (he is still an active member) he was heavily involved in other Polymer Division affairs. To wit, he became Vice-President of the Division in 1996 before assuming the Presidency in 1998, the same year that he was Chair of the 37th World Polymer Congress held on Australia’s Gold Coast. This conference exceeded all expectations and became a benchmark for future events in terms of size, profitability and scientific excellence (for example, RAFT polymerization was first announced to the world at this conference). Bob’s tenure as Division President was bookended by his involvement in another behemoth conference, namely the 2001 IUPAC Congress in Brisbane, for which he was Conference Co-Chair and Scientific Program Chair (pict above).

As is implicit in the latter, by this point Bob was becoming active on the wider IUPAC stage. He led the Australian delegation to the General Assembly in 1995, 1997 and 2005. He was Chair of the Committee of Division Presidents in 1999. He was an organizing committee member for the IUPAC Congresses in 1999 (Berlin) and 2003 (Ottawa). He was an elected member of Bureau, 2002-2005. In this capacity Bob was chair of the Project Evaluation Committee for 2004-2005, which followed on from having been a member of the Strategy Development & Implementation Committee on restructuring IUPAC to meet modern needs in 1997.

Outside of IUPAC Bob has had a stupendous career as a scientific researcher. His h-index is 75 and he has published over 530 papers in international journals. His career has had three distinct phases: first in chemical dynamics, culminating in the publication of his 1990 book Theory of Unimolecular and Recombination Reactions; then in radical polymerization, being particularly well known for the work leading to his 1995 book Emulsion Polymerization – A Mechanistic Approach; and latterly in the area of starch and glycogen. These fields may seem wildly different, but as 85 postdoctoral fellows, 87 PhD students, 18 MSc students and 60 honours students can attest, they are all based on population-balance equations, which Bob loves to solve almost as much as he loves to bodysurf!

With numbers like these, it is no surprise that Bob has received numerous research awards and numerous teaching accolades over the course of his career. Furthermore, his administrative and leadership contributions are by no means limited to IUPAC – he has been just as influential in the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, for example, and he has chaired over a dozen conferences in his lifetime.

Having recently celebrated his 75th birthday, now would seem an appropriate moment to acknowledge Bob via conferment of Emeritus Fellowship of the Polymer Division of IUPAC – the honor is richly deserved!


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