Martin Pope, Chemist and NYU Professor Emeritus, Pioneer in Semiconductors, Age 103
Martin Pope, a founding father of the field of electronic properties of organic crystals and pioneer in the field of semiconductors, died on Sunday, March 27, 2022.
Pope, a professor emeritus in chemistry at New York University (NYU) and former director of NYU’s Radiation and Solid State Physics Lab, was internationally recognized for his work in electroluminescence—the conversion of electric energy directly into visible light—and for inventing many of the experimental techniques used to study organic materials.
Pope was also the founder and president of the board of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. Pope and Keats, a world famous children's book author and illustrator, met in junior high school and were best friends until Keats’ death in 1983.
For "his pioneering work in the field of molecular semiconductors," Pope was awarded the Davy Medal by the United Kingdom's Royal Society (the U.K.'s National Academy of Science). The Davy Medal, established in 1877, is awarded annually for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry; previous medalists include Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff, Pierre and Marie Curie, and Linus Pauling.
Pope made a series of seminal discoveries at NYU that are the basis of the fields of organic electronics and organic light emitting diodes. In 1960, he discovered that ohmic charge injecting contacts, including aqueous solutions containing oxidizing agents, could be used to inject electric currents into normally insulating polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon organic crystals in the dark and under the influence of light. In 1963, Pope and his group showed that electroluminescence could be generated in insulating molecular crystals by the injection of holes and electrons; the subsequent recombination of these electron-hole pairs generate the typical molecular fluorescence of organic molecular crystals like anthracene. His group was the first to demonstrate conclusively that singlet excitons in anthracene crystals and other aromatic molecular solids can generate charge carriers by interacting with electron acceptors at their surfaces. Pope was also the first to discover an exciton-induced photovoltaic effect in organic molecular crystals using identical electrodes.
In the following decade, Pope focused his attention on the field of exciton dynamics in organic crystals. Many discoveries followed from this fertile period that were based on Pope's creative and modern adaptation of the famous Millikan oil drop experiment, which was used to determine the charge of an electron. In 1969, Pope and his colleagues discovered the phenomenon of the spontaneous fission of singlet excitons into two triplet excitons. Subsequently, the phenomenon of exciton heterofission was demonstrated in doped organic solids, that involves the splitting of a host singlet exciton into a triplet exciton of the host, and another of the dopant.
Pope published more than 100 scientific papers and authored Electronic Processes In Organic Crystals And Polymers (1999, Oxford University Press), which has been cited thousands of times. He was recognized for his achievements beyond the Davy Medal; in 1988, he received the citation for Outstanding Contributions to the Department of Energy of the United States. He was also the recipient of the Townsend Harris Medal from the City University of New York. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, The New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pope was a Fulbright Scholar (1996) and his research was supported for many years by the Atomic Energy Commission and later by the Department of Energy.
Pope was born in New York City on August 22, 1918 and grew up in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the City College of New York in 1939 and his doctorate in physical chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering) in 1950. He joined NYU in 1956 and was a researcher and faculty member for more than three decades; while he retired in 1988, he continued his scholarly work for several more decades, working closely with colleague Nicholas Geaintov. Martin's beloved wife Lillie pre-deceased him in 2015, and he is survived by his two daughters, Deborah and Miriam, his brother Michael, and four grandchildren.
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