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  • Writer's pictureMarkie Miller

Coloring Outside of the Lines - an interview with Doug Neckers

This interview as originally published The Spectrum (Volume 19 Issue 1, 2006).

In the 1990s, an American science journalist in the former Soviet Union was spending a weekend at the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) dacha outside Moscow.

Sitting in a lounge at 10 a.m. were some of Russia's elite scientists dressed for relaxation in bathrobes and slippers, jogging outfits, sweaters and jeans. over refreshments - those famous Krupskoi dark chocolates and Armenian cognac - the journalist mentioned that newspapers in Ohio were among those planning to run his story about RAS efforts to sustain science in post-Soviet Russia.

An assistant to Yuri S. Osipov, then RAS president, asked, "So, then, you must know Dr. Neckers?" As the journalist discovered later from visits to RAS institutes, universities, and other facilities, a surprising number of Russian scientists and students knew D.C. Neckers. Indeed, at times, Neckers seems to be the most widely known American chemists in Russia.

How did a photochemical scientist from Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in rural Ohio get a name for himself in Russia? That's a good question. However, it is only one of many about Doug Neckers' remarkable career and influence on the photochemical sciences.

Rarely does a single research center become the identity in the scientific community for an entire university. For many a chemists, BGSU (which has an enrollment of 20,000 and offers 200 majors) and Neckers' Center for Photochemical Science have become synonymous. One recent ACS Committee on Professional Training report showed Neckers' doctoral program graduating as many students as some Big Ten chemistry departments. The Center probably has trained more Russian photochemical scientists than any other non-Russian institution in the world.

How did a newly arrived faculty member at a school that never granted a doctorate or landed a major research grant start, fund, and develop a nationally renowned research and teaching facility? More good questions about Doug Neckers.

In this interview with The Spectrum, Neckers addresses those and other questions. Doug Neckers' career began in the Golden Era of photochemistry, when the science was fostering new commercial and industrial products, industry and academe were discovering the mutual benefits of collaborating, and university education was in a period of enormous change. Neckers' role in some ways offers a road map for young scientists who are positioning themselves for similar changes that lay ahead in the 21st Century. D.C. Neckers received a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Kansas and joined BGSU in 1973, where he is the McMaster Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Executive Director of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at BGSU. Neckers' publications include 10 books and almost 350 research papers. He holds 50 patents. Doug and Suzanne Neckers have two grown children.

You can read the full interview here.

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