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Interview With Author Michael F. L’Annunziata Part 1

By: , Posted on: August 18, 2017

“Elsevier would be nowhere without our authors, and we are thankful to all of them for their contributions to science. But there are few with whom have we had the pleasure of collaborating for half a century. Dr. Michael F. L’Annunziata is one such author—2017 marks his 50th anniversary of publishing with Elsevier. We at Elsevier are so thankful that Dr. Michael L’Annunziata dedicated himself at an early age to make a significant contribution to science. And what an incredible legacy of work he continues to provide the world! Of course we know him best through his significant contribution to the scientific literature.

From his first steps with us in 1967 with his paper in Elsevier’s Journal of Chromatography, to his landmark work Radioactivity: Introduction and History which Elsevier published in 2007 and was on the Library Journal’s Best Sellers List in Physics, Dr. L’Annunziata has always held himself to the highest standards. His continued hard work and dedication to sharing his science showed in the continued success of the Second Edition of his work entitled Radioactivity: Introduction and History, From the Quantum to Quarks published in 2016 and which was a recipient of Honorable Mention in the 2017 PROSE Awards in the category of Chemistry and Physics.

We are grateful that he has again chosen us as his publishing partner for the Fourth Edition of the Handbook of Radioactivity Analysis which is slated to be published in 2019 and that we have been able to enjoy this productive collaboration with him for the last 50 years.

On behalf of all of my colleagues, I sincerely thank Dr. L’Annunziata for his work with us and look forward to our future collaborations.”

– Laura Colantoni, VP and Publisher

Below is Part 1 of this interview. Click here to access part 2.

1. How did you decide upon a career in Chemistry? Did it develop in childhood? If so, do you have a memory of what inspired you?

I was brought up by my father to become a golf professional. I had to practice every day after school from the age of ten years. Even in the cold and snowy winters I had to practice my golf swing in the cellar of our home over a coconut rug to simulate grass turf. I was taught by the best, and they say I had a perfect golf swing. I hit the golf ball as far and long as anyone, but I did not have the passion or love for the sport to become a professional and compete in tournaments. However, it served as a lesson to me. I became aware that to be successful in an undertaking, it is necessary to have a passion for the endeavor or field of study or work.

While attending high school I did well in math and thought I would become an accountant and go into banking. I really did not know what I wanted. It was not until my senior year in high school that I decided to major in chemistry. I had an excellent chemistry teacher who kept me captivated in his lectures and our laboratory experiments. It was then that I decided to major in chemistry upon entering the university. I owe a lot to my chemistry teacher in high school for his interesting and motivating lectures, which sparked my passion for science.

During my undergraduate years in the university (1961-1965), I enjoyed advanced topics in chemistry, mathematics and physics, as all were required fields of study for a degree in chemistry. In particular, my physics professor was a most dynamic lecturer. It was the age of modern physics. His laboratory experiments provided captivating hands-on work with radionuclide decay and my first observation of tracks created by nuclear radiation in a bubble chamber. The lectures then were fascinating as it was the age of quantum physics and matter wave-particle duality.

My years as a graduate student (1965-1970) provided opportunities for independent research, which deepened my passion for chemistry and physics. It was the time when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission provided funding for research into the analysis of harmful nuclear weapons fission products (e.g., strontium-90/yttrium-90) in the environment. This research provided me with the necessary funding for my graduate studies, and the friendship and example provided by the university professors strengthened my passion for scientific research and teaching.

Also, during my graduate years I could revel in witnessing history by having the opportunity of being in the company of some Nobel laureates. My professors were persons I would admire and try to emulate, and I would consider a Nobel laureate in chemistry or physics on campus as living history. My professors and the Nobel laureates were the living examples of persons who made significant contributions to the betterment of contemporary society. I recall meeting Nobel laureate Sir William Lawrence Bragg on campus in 1968 when I was working on my doctorate. We all studied Bragg’s law of x-ray diffraction in our first year of chemistry, but I would never imagine meeting him. Also, because of my graduate work on mass spectrometry of organic compounds, I had the opportunity in 1968 to be interviewed to work under Nobel laureate Prof. Harold C. Urey and Prof. Bartholomew Nagy, who would receive a portion of the very first lunar soil samples in their search for extraterrestrial organic compounds. This was a great honor and privilege, which confirmed my passion for scientific research. I decided to abandon the possibility of working under such esteemed professors, because it would require that I discontinue my doctoral research to join their team.

2. What has been the driving force behind your career—do you have an overall mission that you’ve been working towards?

During my scientific research as a graduate student, I understood that I had to make a significant contribution or discovery in my field of study in order to earn a doctorate degree. After three years of research (1968-1970) using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study the stereochemistry of inositol isomers isolated from inositol phosphates in soils, I made a significant finding that all of the inositol isomers in soils differed from the most abundant isomer (myo-inositol) by the stereochemistry of a single carbon atom, and thus microbial epimerization of one stereoisomer into another was a possible mechanism to their biosynthesis or origin (1975, SSSA Journal 39(2), 377-379). Then in 1977, with the use of carbon-14, the radioactive isotope of carbon, as a tracer, I was able to demonstrate the soil microbial epimerization of myo-inositol to the stereoisomer chiro-inositol (SSSA Journal 41(4), 733-736). This was a significant contribution, which continues to be cited in the scientific literature today. I then thought that I would go through life making similar discoveries in this field or other. However, life takes you down different unexpected paths, and the passion that I had for scientific discovery made me realize that whatever the endeavor in science, it would provide enjoyment with an ambition to excel to the best of my ability.

3. How did you choose academia over industry?

Upon completion of my doctoral degree I went into the chemical industry in 1970. My job was to research, with the use of carbon-14, the transformations that certain organic chemical products undergo in the environment. The work provided an outstanding salary but little satisfaction because all of my work remained a secret to be used by industry in the government approval and promotion and sales of industry products. Visitors to the laboratory were not possible, and I was not free to discuss my work with others or take out papers from the lab to my home. The chemical industry held secret, for proprietary reasons, the products upon which they were carrying out research. I decided I would prefer academia where I could teach, carry out research and meaningful relationships with students, and publish the results.

4. Your work has taken you around the world—you’ve done research or been involved in organizations in the U.S., Sweden, Austria, China, etc. What part of the world has been most exciting or fascinating to work in?

My international work began in 1972 when the President of Mexico invited qualified scientists and university faculty in the U.S. to teach and conduct scientific research in Mexico. The salaries would be significantly lower; however, the offer included benefits provided to local government employees, cost-free full medical coverage for myself and family, and the opportunity to experience life in another country. I accepted a position as professor at the Postgraduate College in Chapingo, Mexico, and subsequently a post in scientific research in the use of radioisotopes as tracers in scientific research at the National Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ), Mexico City. The post at ININ also provided the opportunity to serve as graduate thesis research advisor for students of the Faculty of Chemistry of the nearby Autonomous University of the State of Mexico at Toluca. This gave me the opportunity to teach and live in Mexico, the country of origin of my wife and children.

With my experience in Mexico, fluency in English and Spanish, and knowledge of German, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with headquarters in Vienna, Austria, hired me in 1977 as a professional officer in the Department of Research and Isotopes. From Vienna, the IAEA sent me the following year on short assignments to countries of Latin America to assist in the planning and implementation of projects of technical co-operation on peaceful applications of nuclear energy. During subsequent years, the IAEA sent me on similar assignments to countries of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and as Head of the IAEA Fellowships and Training Section, I was required to visit IAEA Member States in North America and Western and Eastern Europe for the implementation of training programs on peaceful applications of nuclear energy. This work eventually brought me to over 50 countries of the world during 1976 to 2007.

It was always fascinating to teach or work with others in so many countries of the world. There is no particular country that I would call my favorite. The different cultures, food, and environment in each country provided a wealth of experience. In every country, I was awarded with the appreciation and hospitality of the people.

5. How and when did your relationship with Elsevier begin?

My relationship with Elsevier began during the summer of 1967. I had completed my research for the MSc. Degree, and during the course of this research I had developed a quantitative chemical indicator for polyaminocarboxylic acids (chelating agents) useful for the identification and quantitative analysis of these compounds on chromatographic or electrophoretic media. I submitted the paper to Elsevier’s Journal of Chromatography in the Autumn of 1967, and the paper was accepted for publication on December 1, 1967. The Journal of Chromatography remains a leading international journal in this field.

6. You’ve put countless hours and immeasurable effort into your books. What part of these projects has been most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of book publishing is discovering that your book has become very popular among university faculty and students and among the scientific staff of institutions of research.

7. Is there one particular accomplishment or discovery that stands out in your mind as your proudest?

There is only one discovery that I made during the late 1960s while working on my doctoral dissertation published in 1970. While carrying out my doctoral research, I discovered that among four inositol stereoisomers that are known to exist in soils, namely, myo-inositol, D-chiro-inositol, neo-inositol, and scyllo-inositol, which are found as inositol phosphates, the latter three differ from the most abundant myo-inositol by their stereochemistry of a single carbon atom. These stereochemical differences were subsequently illustrated in a paper I published in 1975 (SSSA Journal 39(2), 377-379). As a result of this observation, I postulated that the D-chiro-, neo- and scyllo-inositol isomers could originate from the most abundant myo-inositol via an epimerization reaction at a single carbon atom induced by soil microbial activity. The possibility of these epimerization reactions was published in the above dissertation in 1970 and subsequent papers in the SSSA Journal in 1971 (35(4), 587-595) and in 1975 (SSSA Journal 39(2), 377-379). Finally, in 1977 I published the results of work demonstrating, with the use of carbon-14 as a radioactive tracer, the soil microbial epimerization of myo-inositol to chiro-inositol (SSSA Journal 41(4), 733-736). This discovery continues to be cited to this date in the scientific journal literature.

View Part 2 of this interview here.

Michael F. L’Annunziata, Ph.D. appears with a detailed biography in the annual editions of Who’s Who in the World from 1987 to 2017 and Who’s Who in America from 2000 to 2017. He majored in chemistry with a BSc degree from St. Edward’s University in 1965, and he was awarded MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Arizona, Tucson in 1967 and 1970, respectively, and an Honorary Teaching Diploma from the Central University of Ecuador in 1978. His graduate thesis research in the 1960s, financed by the then U.S. Atomic Energy Commission directed by Nobel laureate Glenn T. Seaborg, dealt with the analysis of radioactive strontium-89 and strontium-90 in the environment and the remediation of soils contaminated with strontium-90 in the event of nuclear fallout. During 1972 to 1975, L’Annunziata was Professor at the Postgraduate College in Chapingo, Mexico, and during 1975-1977, he was research scientist at the National Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ), Mexico City and thesis research adviser on radioisotope tracer applications for the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, Chemistry Faculty, Toluca, Mexico. L’Annunziata was a member of the Board of Governors, International Science Programs at Uppsala University between 1988 and 1991. He was Head of Fellowships and Training at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria from 1987-1991 and has served as IAEA Expert on peaceful applications of nuclear energy for development in over 50 countries of the world from 1976 to 2007. His main research interests have been focused on the development of chemical and instrumental methods for the detection and measurement of radioactive nuclides in the environment and the application of radioactive tracers in biological research. L’Annunziata demonstrated in 1971 the separation of strontium-90 from its daughter nuclide yttrium-90 by electrophoresis as a potential method for strontium-90 analysis (J. Chem. Educ. 48, 700-703). He was the first to postulate in 1970 the soil microbial epimerization of myo-inositol to other inositol stereoisomers as a source of isomers of soil inositol phosphates published in his University of Arizona, Ph.D. dissertation, 1970 (http://dissexpress.umi.com/dxweb/search.html) and published in 1971 in the SSSA Journal 35(4), 587-595, and again in 1975 in the SSSA Journal 39(2), 377-379, and to demonstrate in 1977, with the use of radioactive carbon-14, the soil microbial epimerization of myo-inositol to D-chiro-inositol as a mechanism for the origin of the isomers of soil inositol phosphates (SSSA Journal 41(4), 733-736). Michael F. L’Annunziata was Honorary Professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China in 1992. He has authored several books, among which his book entitled Radioactivity: Introduction and History published by Elsevier in 2007 was on the Library Journal’s Best Sellers List in Physics, and its Second Edition entitled Radioactivity: Introduction and History: Form the Quantum to Quarks published by Elsevier in 2016 was a recipient of Honorable Mention in the 2017 PROSE Awards in the category of Chemistry and Physics. L’Annunziata is currently working on the Fourth Edition of the Handbook of Radioactivity Analysis which is slated to be published by Elsevier in 2019.

Download a free chapter – Chapter 14, Cosmic Radiation – from Prof. L’Annunziata’s book, Radioactivity, 2nd Edition.

Chapter 14, Cosmic Radiation analyzes various aspects of cosmic radiation including the classification and properties of cosmic radiation, the composition of cosmic radiation of galactic origin incident on the top of the atmosphere (TOA), the flux distributions of the major components of primary cosmic radiation, the spectrum of cosmic rays greater than 100 MeV, the showers of cosmic radiation, relativistic calculations of time dilation for a muon traveling toward earth in the cosmic-ray showers as measured by an observer on earth, cosmic rays underground, and the origins of cosmic rays.

Visit elsevier.com and use discount code STC317 at checkout to save up to 30% on your very own copy!

 

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