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The University of Alabama

Chemistry Professor Named UA Burnum Award Winner

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A University of Alabama chemistry professor whose research has been lauded by the Department of Energy and who recently co-authored an article describing a potentially transformative development for hydrogen-powered automobiles is this year’s winner of the Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award.

Dr. David Dixon

The University will present Dr. David Dixon, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry, with the Burnum award April 12 at 4:30 p.m. in the Child Development Center. He will deliver a lecture titled, “Computational Chemistry: Addressing Energy and Environmental Issues.” A reception follows, and the public is welcome.

“Dr. Dixon’s seven years at The University of Alabama have been highly productive ones on all fronts and only build further on a career of over 35 years marked by countless milestones,” wrote Dr. Robert Olin, dean of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, in a nomination letter.

“His students have won a number of awards, and his research is characterized by groundbreaking discoveries that not only advance pure knowledge in his field but quickly translate into remarkable practical applications,” Olin wrote.        

The Burnum Award is one of the highest honors the University bestows on its faculty. Established by Mrs. Celeste Burnum and the late Dr. John F. Burnum of Tuscaloosa, it is presented annually to a professor who is judged by a faculty selection committee to have demonstrated superior scholarly or artistic achievements and profound dedication to the art of teaching.

Dixon has published more than 560 papers on a wide range of topics and is considered a world leader in the application of numerical simulation to chemical problems. As a computational chemist, he uses numerical simulation and high performance computing to solve complex chemical problems.

His research focuses on catalysis and environmental science, including actinide chemistry for next generation nuclear fuels, atmospheric chemistry, hydrogen storage for transportation, carbon dioxide sequestration in the subsurface, biochemistry for analyzing proteins and fluorine chemistry.

Complex chemical experiments can be expensive, time consuming to conduct, and, sometimes, even dangerous. Computer simulation of such experiments enables researchers to test theories and solutions in a “virtual” laboratory before proceeding to such experiments.

His work has been cited more than 13,000 times by other scientists in their research papers.  

In 2010, Dixon received a Hydrogen Program Research and Development Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Hydrogen Storage Technologies” for his contribution to the overall efforts of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center of Excellence in Chemical Hydrogen Storage.  

In March, Dixon co-authored a paper, publishing in the journal Science, describing a method for recycling a hydrogen fuel source. Dixon and his colleagues from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with his students, demonstrated that a lightweight material, ammonia borane, can be a feasible material for storing hydrogen on vehicles.

Practical, efficient and affordable storage of hydrogen has been one of the challenges in making the powering of electrical motors via hydrogen fuel cells a viable alternative to traditional gasoline powered engines. Benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology include cleaner air and less dependence on foreign oil.

Dixon has directly supervised more than 40 University of Alabama undergraduate student researchers, 13 doctoral students, and three post-doctoral fellows during his time at UA. His research is presently supported by nearly $1.5 million annually in external funding.

Dixon, who earned his Bachelor of Science from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his doctorate from Harvard, was an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota for six years before joining du Pont’s central research staff in 1983. He later served as research leader in computational chemistry with du Pont before joining the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 1995 as an associate director of the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sceinces Laboratory.  He joined UA in 2004.

The department of chemistry is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.   

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.