Expert on Porous Materials Achieves
University's Highest Honor
Steven L. Suib, professor of chemistry and an international leader in the field of zeolite synthesis, fondly remembers his high school chemistry teacher, the late Nora Keyser, as the person who most influenced his career.
"She was the first person to give me a break," he recalls. "She gave me different jobs, from making liquid solutions for student experiments to preparing equipment for experiments, and even grading homework."
That all-important early attention and direction as a teenager growing up in Olean, N.Y., has culminated in a myriad professional successes: a dozen honors and awards, including the NASA Fellowship, the SUNY Outstanding Achievement Award, the Olin Research Award, the American Chemical Society's Exxon Faculty Fellowship in Solid State Chemistry, recognition as an Amoco Distinguished Speaker and, last year, the Chancellor's Research Excellence Award on home turf at UConn.
Suib, whose field of specialization is inorganic chemistry, is also the holder of 18 patents and has published more than 300 scholarly papers. He has earned an international reputation for his research on zeolites - microporous crystalline solids, often referred to as "molecular sieves." Currently, he is U.S. regional editor of Microporous and Mesoporous Materials, the leading journal in the field.
His work straddles the boundaries of a number of different fields in chemistry, materials science, engineering, and environmental science.
He reached, perhaps, the pinnacle of his UConn career in the spring, when he was named one of this year's five Board of Trustees' Distinguished Professors. The lifetime award is the University's highest recognition for a faculty member.
Suib joined UConn in 1980 as an associate professor. A graduate of State University College in Fredonia, N.Y., he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1979 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaig n.
He says he has always been interested in new and novel people, places and things, and that his academic career nicely avails him of all these elements.
"Teaching and research involve constant change, meeting new people, going new places and, in our research, making new materials," says Suib, who was promoted to full professor in 1989.
Much of his research is governed by a desire to improve the environment. "We try to find ways to make materials with less energy, with less toxic or nontoxic reagents, and at lower overall cost," Suib says.
He points with considerable pride to University research that has led to the synthesis of a new class of porous materials that are now being used in the automotive, chemical and battery industries.
Most of Suib's research involves collaborative efforts with people in both industry and academia. Since the early 1980s, he has worked with more than two dozen Fortune 100 companies and prominent organizations, including DuPont, Rubicon, Fujitsu, Shell, United Technologies, Duracell, Honda, Pfizer, Texaco, Catalytica Associates, A.D. Little and ATM Inc.
The late Gary Epling, professor and head of the chemistry department praised Suib for his research in zeolite synthesis that has garnered him a reputation as an international expert. "These materials are important because they can cause a chemical reaction to take place in a very clean fashion and without producing byproducts from the use of chemical materials," he said.
"Steve's research is in that category and some of the catalysts he's developed have led to important catalytic activity," Epling said, referring to the treatment of environmental pollutants in the gas phase, such as vapors that are emitted from car exhausts.
But it was not only his research expertise that earned Suib the honor of being named a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor.
"The three areas we always discuss in academics are all areas in which Steve has excelled and has been an excellent citizen," said Epling.
"He's brought external recognition and scholarly accomplishments in research and in publications to the University," he said.
"Steve has also been an absolutely excellent teacher, who has willingly taken his fair share and more of teaching assignments."
And when it comes to service, such as serving on committees, Suib always says "yes," according to Epling. "Steve has not only served on our department search committees, but the search committees of other departments," he said. "He's the person one goes looking to for an able and willing contributor for any important function."
Suib says he values his career as an academic for two main reasons: one is the ability to choose a research direction or philosophy to pursue; the other, the desire to teach and to learn from others.
"Interactions with students and colleagues are at the core of both of these activities," he says. "Having taught all levels of undergraduate and graduate courses at the University, it's exciting to see the changes that occur throughout a student's stay."
Claudia G. Chamberlain