IU scientist joins mentor and collaborator for Nobel Prize events in Sweden

Amar Flood studied under 2016 Nobel Laureate J. Fraser Stoddart as a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA

Last month, members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences — the organization that awards the Nobel Prize — honored three experts in the field of molecular machines with one of the highest honors in the field of science and research during a ceremony Dec. 10 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Amar Flood, left, with his wife, Michiko Owaki, and Fraser Stoddart. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

Amar Flood, left, with his wife, Michiko Owaki, and Fraser Stoddart. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

Joining those scientists for a week of scientific talks, formal events and intellectual stimulation were dozens of close collaborators, colleagues and friends, among whom could be found Amar Flood, a professor in the Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, who attended the activities with his wife and children at the invitation of J. Fraser Stoddart, one of the 2016 Nobel Laureates and a mentor to Flood during his time as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“It was extremely rewarding to see a mentor and colleague get this tremendous honor… tears of joy came in the place of words,” said Flood, who joined 15 invited guests of Stoddart and their families in Stockholm from Dec. 5 to 13. “This award raises the profile and credibility of the whole field of molecular machines.”

Stoddart was honored for the design and synthesis of molecular machines, which are nanoscopically small groups of precisely designed molecules that can perform specific tasks when energy is added. Flood’s own work focuses on the creation of highly specialized molecular structures, or “supramolecules,” with industrial and environmental applications. Recently, for instance, his lab reported the first evidence for a new molecule with potential applications in the safe storage of nuclear waste and reduction of chemicals that contaminate water and trigger large fish kills.

As a postdoctoral scholar studying molecular electronics and molecular machines under Stoddart from 2002 to 2005, Flood said the senior scientists’ influence sparked a lifelong interest in molecular machines, as well as taught him other critical skills as a researcher, such as how to write strong research papers, engage in productive collaborations and lead research groups.

More broadly, Flood said Stoddart’s influence taught him to “pursue high standards of research, to collaborate with the best people, and to win over the hearts and minds of your colleagues.”

As a guest of Stoddart, Flood and his family had the opportunity to attend a white-tie banquet beneath the opulent golden arches of the Stockholm’s City Hall Cellar, which was held in conjunction with the official award ceremony, after which the attendees joined the smaller ceremony group for a nightcap. They also attended Stoddart’s reception at the U.S. Embassy, the Nobel Lectures in Chemistry, and the filming of the BBC News series, Nobel Minds. He also attended gatherings of the Stoddart group every night at Stockholm’s historic Grand Hôtel. Joining him on the trip were his wife, Michiko Owaki, and sons, Benjamin, 8, and Sean, 6.

In one of the most popular photos from coverage of the Nobel Prize, Stoddart poses with the children who accompanied him as guests at Nobel Week. Flood’s son Sean stands to the left, making a peace sign atop of Stoddart’s head. Benjamin wears a black-and-blue shirt. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

Stoddart poses with the children of his guests at Nobel Week. Flood’s son Sean stands to the left, making a peace sign atop of Stoddart’s head. Benjamin wears a black-and-blue shirt. The photo was one of the most popular to emerge from coverage of the prize. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

“The whole experience was amazing,” Flood said. “It was incredible to see scientists treated like superstars. They had paparazzi and photo shoots; winners were stopped on the streets to sign autographs. The highlight was a standing ovation at the end of the Nobel lectures.”

Currently, Stoddart and Flood’s collaborations focus on advancing research opportunities in supramolecular chemistry and molecular machines, such as organizing conferences and supporting each other’s advocacy for more support for these research topics. Flood also helped proofread several sections of Stoddart’s latest book, “The Nature of the Mechanical Bond,” and is co-author on multiple papers with Stoddart.

“All of us in Stockholm who were a part of Fraser’s group of 15 guests and their families were extremely appreciative of the invitation, and his generosity during the Nobel week,” Flood said. “My academic brothers and sisters are spread all over the world. While I see them once or twice a year, we never get to meet each other’s families. For this reason, this gathering was particularly special for allowing my family to meet and connect with that of my academic family.”

Flood also noted that Stoddart “paid special attention to extending the invitation to all our families. He felt that the children could gain a lot from the experience by being introduced to science at the highest level, and to see that they too could have this level of impact in the future.”

The other winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry were Jean-Pierre Sauvage of University of Strasbourg, France, and Bernard “Ben” L. Feringa of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Stoddart is a professor at Northwestern University.

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