Cotton dies Feb. 20, 2007

Dr. F. Albert Cotton, considered one of the world's foremost inorganic chemists and one of the most honored faculty members in the history of Texas A&M University, died February 20, 2007 at the age of 76.

Cotton came to Texas A&M in 1972 as the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and was named Distinguished Professor of Chemistry one year later. He earned his doctorate from Harvard and, before coming to College Station, taught at MIT. In 1961, at age 31, he became the youngest MIT faculty member to attain the rank of full professor.

"Al Cotton is one of the most important faculty members in the history of Texas A&M University," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "He was an integral part of its transition from an all-male, all-military school to the full-scale, world-class research institution it is today."

Former Texas A&M University President Robert M. Gates reiterated the significance of Cotton's contributions as well as of his loss. "Al Cotton is a legendary figure at Texas A&M," Gates said. "From my first day on campus, I knew how important he was to Texas A&M. This is indeed a sad day in the history of the university."

Interim Texas A&M University President Ed Davis noted that Dr. Cotton came to Texas A&M the same year he arrived. "Al Cotton's contributions to the scholarship in inorganic chemistry have been enormous over the intervening 35 years," Davis said.

Cotton, holder of the W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M and director of the Laboratory for Molecular Structure and Bonding, won more awards than any faculty member in Texas A&M history.

Among others, he was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry, the Priestley Medal-the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society-the Award in Chemical Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences and the highly prestigious Wolf Prize, viewed by many scholars as having the status of a Nobel Prize. The jury for the Wolf Prize called him the "preeminent inorganic chemist in the world." His body of work on metallic elements has impacted not only inorganic chemistry but also biochemistry, molecular biology, chemical engineering and physics.

The F.A. Cotton Medal, established in 1995 by the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry and the local section of the American Chemical Society, is presented annually for excellence in chemical research. Another award bearing his name is the F. Albert Cotton Award for Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry, which is presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society each spring.

Cotton was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academies of Sciences of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Denmark. He was awarded 29 honorary doctorates by universities around the world, believed to be the most in school history.

He has written five text and reference books that have sold in excess of one-half-million copies, including editions in 40 foreign languages. He authored or co-authored more than 1,600 publications, by far the most in Texas A&M's 130-year history.

In an interview several years ago, Cotton said he was most proud of the students he had helped. He directly supervised the work of 116 graduate students-including 67 at Texas A&M-who went on to earn their doctoral degrees, yet another school record for faculty.

"The thrill of discovery and the challenge of finding out something that perhaps no one has yet-those things are still very, very exciting to me,"Cotton said. "Maybe I was born with a lot of energy, because I still love what I'm doing, and seeing my students walk across the stage and get their degrees still gives me a big kick. That's the part I'll never get tired of."

Befitting to Cotton, there will not be a traditional funeral; however, in a few weeks, his life will be celebrated in a memorial to be held in the College Station area. In lieu of flowers or other offerings, his family has requested that donations be made to the F.A. Cotton Endowed Memorial Graduate Travel Award to support graduate students in the Department of Chemistry in care of the Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas 77840-2811.

Cotton is survived by his wife of 47 years, Diane "Dee," and their two daughters, Jennifer and Jane.

(This obituary was originally published on the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry web site. Details of the planned memorial service may be found at the same site.)