Distinguished Chemistry Career Earns Recognition From American Chemical Society

Al Sattelberger, Ph.D., regularly surprises chemistry students with how readily he can predict the outcome of an inorganic or organometallic reaction. But that’s to be expected with a resume that spans 44 years  — including scientific leadership positions at two DOE National Laboratories.

Today Sattelberger is technically “retired”, but the pull of lab work was too great to ignore after moving to Orlando in 2019. So, he spends some of his free time overseeing experiments in the laboratory of Assistant Professor Titel Jurca, Ph.D.

“I’m something of a live search engine for the students,” said Sattelberger, a research scientist in the Department of Chemistry.

In many ways mentoring the next generation of scientists is one of the greatest rewards of a lifetime committed to chemistry. But a recent phone call from the president of the American Chemical Society (ACS) added a bonus: the ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry.

“It’s a great feeling, and a validation of your chemistry career choice,” Sattelberger said.

Sattelberger held several administrative appointments at DOE laboratories over his career, but he never lost touch with lab work. His most recent position at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago placed him in charge of more than 1,000 employees.  After hours, though, he traded his titles as deputy lab director and chief research officer to just become “Al,” a card-carrying inorganic chemist with a curiosity about chemistry he’s carried since high school.

“I spent a lot of time interacting with staff scientists, talking about the research we were doing and opportunities and possible new directions,” said Sattelberger.

A commitment to building relationships is another common thread in a lifetime of service to the chemistry community. He built friendships and trade connections as he gained an education from Rutgers College and Indiana University, and as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University. Other friends were found at the University of Michigan as a faculty member, then within the Department of Energy complex as a staff scientist and research manager

Along the way Sattelberger soaked up an impressive catalog of knowledge, but he insists he’s not through learning. There are over a hundred elements in the periodic table with different properties, so “you learn something new every day,” he said.

The challenge comes in picking the right ideas to pursue, then efficiently exploring that line of inquiry. Finding the funds to pay for equipment, materials and personnel also requires effective marketing to various federal agencies. Publishing results is a fundamental and important step of the process.

The sum of his chemistry knowledge, service, and outreach is what Sattelberger’s ACS award represents, and what he shares with Jurca and his students.

The students are “eager to learn and launch their own careers,” Sattelberger said. “I’m happy to play a part in getting them out into the world.


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