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Attila Pavlath

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Pavlath_Attila.jpgAttila E. Pavlath received his education at the Technical University of Budapest in Hungary, where he became assistant professor. In 1956, he left Hungary first for Montreal, Canada (McGill University), then in 1958, he joined Stauffer Chemical Company in Richmond, California. Since 1967, he has been with the Western Regional Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in Albany, California. He is leading a group involved in research on various agricultural chemical problems. Dr. Pavlath's scientific career includes work on fluorine chemistry (30+ years), glow discharge chemistry (10+ years), textile chemistry (10 years), energy and biomass research (10 years), the freshness in fruits and vegetables (10 years) and most recently on biodegradable wrapping films. He has published over 120 scientific papers on these subjects, three books and has presented numerous lectures in the U.S. and abroad. He also holds 25 patents. Dr. Pavlath is also well-known for his activities in the ACS during the past 35 years to make the ACS more responsive to the professional needs of its members. He rose from his Section’s Treasurer to the Presidency of the whole ACS.


ACS, Shakespeare and Hammerstein

What is the connection between these three? During my Presidency, as we entered into the 21st century, I emphasized that we must make necessary changes in our Society to meet the challenges the chemistry profession faces under the modern social and professional environment. One of my actions to convince those who are reluctant to accept changes was a musical I wrote, titled: It is time for a change. In the musical, performed by professional actors Shakespeare and Hammerstein were invoked through a time machine to get the message across though soft music. The musical was converted to a lecture accompanied by various songs performed by any easily available High School choir. It is both entertainment and discussing the basic problems our Society faces. It was successfully presented in various Sections. It is an unorthodox form of lecturing which can revitalize a section.

Alternate Energy Sources: From the Sun to the Depth of the Earth

This lecture gives a general description of the availability of various energy resources other than coal, gas, and oil. It summarizes the present technological background of possibilities from geothermal to fusion power. It is presented in a way understandable to a large degree even by non-technical audiences. The amount available in each area and the future outlook are discussed.

Application of Electric Glow-Discharge in Organic and Polymer Chemistry

Electric glow discharge at low pressure contains high energy particles, e.g., radicals, ions, and electrons at low temperature that are capable of causing reactions similiar to alpha, beta, and gamma radiation without the safety problems of radioactive materials. It can be applied to induce reactions in gaseous mixtures or on solid surfaces. The lecture will describe briefly the theory behind activation by glow discharge and provide various examples for its potential application for practical purposes.

Biodegradable Wrapping Films

Artificial wrapping films, e.g. polyethylene take 200 years to biodegrade and create serious environmental problems. On the other hand, agricultural polymers biodegrade easily, but they are difficult to mold and the physical strength of the forming films is inferior. Two new methods were developed to overcome these difficulties. One is to start out with low molecular weight water soluble acidic carbohydrates, such as pectin or alginic acid, and crosslink the forming films with multivalent ions to form ionomers. The other is to depolymerize reversible high molecular weight polymers and rebuild the macromolecule after molding or extrusion. Especially cisteine containing proteins are suitable for this. In both cases the forming films are biodegradable and equal or stronger than polyethylene films.

Biomass Utilization

The lecture discusses the chemistry of biomass conversion to chemicals. It gives a technical discussion on the possible reactions involved in the gasification of biomass, i.e., carbohydrates to oxychemicals. An analytical method combining thermogravimetry and mass spectrometry is described, which can be used for tracing complex systems of simultaneous and consecutive reactions occurring during pyrolysis. The lecture may also be given in a modified form suitable for an audience with a general chemistry background.

Center for the Public Image of Chemistry

During the years, the public image of chemistry suffered greatly by the exaggeration of some problems caused by chemicals, while their important beneficial contributions to the every day life was minimized or even ignored. We can not afford a passive attitude towards this problem. Our alliance with the Green Chemistry Institute was an important step to improve the publc image of chemistry, but this is not enough. We must do much more: 1. Be a watchdog for misrepresentation of chemistry in the media and provide clari- fication. This would be fortified through a nationwide network where members would report local news stories good or bad which needs to be spread or corrected. 2. Follow those new discoveries in chemistry which can have direct beneficial effect on our everyday life and explain in layman term how the public will benefit. 3. Create similar descriptions on existing inventions for distribution to the media including radio and television. 4. Be a reliable source for responsible reporters on emerging news stories who want to report facts not sensations. A Center for the Pubic Image of Chemistry would be the best way to carry out these tasks. The lecture will elaborate on the problem and suggest solutions.

Economic Status of Chemists

A Ph.D. in chemistry spends about the same time studying chemistry as an M.D. does while learning about the medical sciences. Nevertheless, economic status of the graduates is markedly different. The lecture will analyze the problem and will elaborate on possible solutions, from simple to highly controversial ones, for improving the economic status of chemists. It will also describe and interpret the newest data obtained by the ACS in this area.

Edible Coatings on Food, or How To Keep Fruits and Vegetables Fresh after Light Processing

Various fruits and vegetables need to be pared, cored and/or sliced before consumption, but such light processing deprives the commodity of its natural protection against dehydration and discoloration. Such processed agricultural products must be used immediately after processing or protected by refrigeration and/or special atmosphere storage. A new approach has been found to coat fruits and vegetables after processing with an edible film that protects against undesirable changes, keeps the produce fresh, and allows their consumption without the removal of the coating. An emulsion of proteins, carbohydrates, and waxes is used to creates a thin coating on the surface of the processed fruits and vegetables. This coating is tasteless and nearly invisible. When applied to pieces of apple, pear, and zucchini, no dehydration and discoloration were evident for up to five days. The lecture will describe various combinations of the components and pinpoint future directions.

Is There a Shortage of Chemists?

This is a highly controversial subject that is answered differently by various segments of our profession. The lecture will describe the various points of views supported by pertinent data. While everyone agrees that there is a problem, most frequently, the solutions proposed consider only a limited aspect of the problem. The lecture will propose various possible solutions can unite the many factions without slighting anyone.

Organic Fluorine Chemistry

For the average person, fluorine chemistry means fluorocarbons, which are often cited as the cause of the problems of our protective ozone layer. The lecture gives a general view on why fluorine chemistry forms a special branch of chemistry when the other halogen compounds are regular parts of organic and inorganic chemistry. It describes the general methods for the preparation of fluorine compounds while providing an explanation for their unique properties. Various examples will be given to show the uses for these compounds.

Public Image of Chemists and Chemistry

While medical doctors and medicine are in the top quartile of public esteem, chemistry and chemists lag considerably behind them, even though most of the progress in health can be traced to chemical discoveries and developments. The lecture will describe the problem, what the ACS is doing in this area, and what the individual can do about it. It will also solicit from the audience new ideas for implementation by the ACS.

Shrinkproofing of Wool

Woolen materials cannot be machine washed, which limits their utility in the modern life. The wool fiber does not shrink during washing. It is the yarn woven from the fibers that exhibits this undesirable property. While today there is still no commercialized process that provides complete protection against shrinkage, considerable progress has been made. The lecture describes the cause of the shrinking and various attempts that have been made to prevent shrinkage.


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