Trailblazing FSU chemist receives esteemed Chemical Pioneer Award

Alan G. Marshall

A Florida State University chemistry professor who has won worldwide acclaim for his contributions to the field of analytical chemistry now has another prestigious award to his credit.

Alan G. Marshall, the Robert O. Lawton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at FSU and director of the Ion Cyclotron Resonance Program at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, has been selected to receive the 2007 Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists. The award recognizes "chemists and chemical engineers who have made outstanding contributions advancing the science of chemistry or impacting the chemical industry or the chemical profession."

The Chemical Pioneer Award is based on Marshall’s co-invention and pioneering development of a scientific technique known as Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometry. This is an analytical chemical tool capable of resolving and identifying thousands of different chemical components in mixtures ranging from petroleum to biological fluids. Since its invention, more than 700 FT-ICR instruments, with a replacement value of approximately $400 million, have been installed in laboratories worldwide.

"Not every new scientific technique turns out to be useful," Marshall said. "The most satisfying thing to me is that the developments cited for this award turned out to be good for solving all sorts of problems that weren’t even imagined when we started."

In addition to the Chemical Pioneer Award, Marshall will be granted Fellow status in the American Institute of Chemists. He will be recognized on May 18 during a symposium at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.

"We are proud of our colleague, Professor Marshall," said Professor Joseph Schlenoff, interim chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at FSU. "He is truly a pioneer of instrumentation and science in the field of mass spectroscopy."

The Chemical Pioneer Award is highly esteemed; 11 previous recipients have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Marshall becomes the second FSU chemist to win the award, following Professor Gregory Choppin in 1997.

FT-ICR mass spectrometry is one of the most informative methods available for chemical analysis and has had a tremendous impact on research in numerous fields. Marshall’s own research has led to greater understanding of the chemical mechanisms involved in several key areas, among them:

  • Petroleum Analysis. "Our work on crude oil and its distillates has spawned a new field known as ‘petroleomics,’" Marshall said. "Essentially, these substances are staggeringly complex — a single heavy petroleum sample may contain more than 30,000 chemical substances. Understanding the chemistry of petroleum products will lead to more efficient oil extraction techniques and allow for more reliable identification of the sources of petroleum spills."
  • Drug-Protein Interactions. "FT-ICR mass spectrometry gives us a very powerful way to probe the interaction between drugs and proteins," Marshall said. "Understanding exactly how specific drugs bind to their protein receptors is an important step in developing newer and even more effective medications."
  • Counterterrorism. "We’re working to advance forensic identification and matching of a given chemical or biological warfare agent to its source based on a complex ‘fingerprint’ of the organic constituents of the agent," Marshall said. "For example, we have identified various arson accelerants by comparing samples before and after a fire — and military explosives by comparing post-blast to pre-blast samples."
  • Biochemistry. "As one example, we have identified a number of Alzheimer’s disease ‘marker’ proteins in cerebrospinal fluid," Marshall said. "A greater understanding of the molecular issues at work with Alzheimer’s and other diseases could lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments."

Since its founding in 1923, the American Institute of Chemists ( has worked to advance the chemical profession in the United States.