Neckers receives prestigious Forster Prize

Dr. Douglas Neckers only second American to receive award

By Bob Cunningham

One of photo sciences’ most significant prizes recently was bestowed upon Dr. Douglas Neckers, professor emeritus and founder of the Department of Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University.

Neckers is only the second American to be honored as a recipient of the prestigious Theodor Forster Prize for 2016 from the German Chemical Society, which has recognized internationally acclaimed photochemists since 1975. This year’s prize was awarded in Jena, Germany, to Neckers, who also is the CEO of Spectra Group, Ltd., in Millbury, Ohio.

“What the Forster recognition confirmed through me is that research professors and academic leader/entrepreneurs are only successful because of their students and colleagues,” Neckers said. “What this award signifies that in the photo sciences we managed to take our program in the Center for Photochemical Sciences to the highest level. I say ‘we’ and ‘our’ because that’s what I mean. I always tried to treat every research student as a collaborator and a colleague.

“I think that this award, in part at least, recognizes that method of mentoring worked. Research works best among collaborators, junior with senior. That’s invariably the way I worked with students. One plus one, when done right, is more than two. Our center was a collaborative enterprise and because that was the way it was, we prospered much beyond our expectation.”

The use of light as a chemical reagent has fascinated Neckers since his career began. With new photoinitiators, he contributed to the successful economic performance in the then new area of photopolymerization. As director of the Center for Photochemical Sciences, he combined fundamental research with applied research and founded Spectra Group Ltd., a company manufacturing photopolymerizable materials. What is now known as 3-D printing or, more specifically, rapid-prototyping using stereolithography, is based on a technology that was recognized in the 1980s by Neckers and his students at BGSU.

The citation on the award reads: “For his ingenious basic research and the implementation of its applied research in industrial applications Neckers is awarded the Theodor Fö rster Memorial Lecture Prize.”

“Forster was a physical chemist, so that is particularly significant to me because I am an organic chemist,” Neckers said. “The two fields seem in this award at least to mesh in some way.”

Neckers invented the term “photochemical sciences” because “what we did is a lot more than just ‘photochemistry,’” he said. “I haven’t checked lately, but I think the current faculty at the center is heavily dosed with physicists, which is how it should be since the photo sciences are interdisciplinary.

“The photo sciences are, now in all their manifestations, huge industries. I’m pleased to have played, at least in a little way, a role in enabling some of that.”

Neckers said before he arrived at Bowling Green in 1973 there were hardly any science-based businesses in the area. But what BGSU had in abundance was “people.”

“One of the saving graces for chemistry at BGSU was that Paul Block Jr., publisher of the Toledo Blade, was an organic chemist like me,” Neckers said. “He helped me with setting priorities a great deal when I first came to BGSU. Our University, when it comes to sciences, is in debt to Paul Block Jr.”

Neckers also said that former University vice president Chris Dalton, Eminent Scholar Michael A. J. Rodgers, Distinguished Teaching Professor Tom Kinstle, administrative colleague Pat Green and many others helped the center grow beyond his “wildest dreams.”

Neckers, who also is the chair of the board of directors of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y., was nominated for the Forster Award by Bernd Strehmel, who did his doctoral work at an East German university before being among the first Germans to study in the United States after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German Chemical Society, with more than 31,000 members, is the largest chemical scientific society in the world. It has 28 divisions, including a photochemistry division.