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Edith Flanigen

28 January 2019

The chemist developed molecular sieves that have wide-ranging applications.

Edith Flanigen

Born on 28 January 1929 in Buffalo, New York, Edith Flanigen is an inventor and chemist who synthesized molecular compounds that have had profound effects on the petroleum and petroleum products industry. After graduating magna cum laude in 1950 from D’Youville College with a degree in chemistry, Flanigen received her master’s from Syracuse University in 1952. Flanigen then started what would become an over 50-year career at Union Carbide. It was there that Flanigen led a team that produced a novel variety of zeolites, a class of aluminosilicate molecules whose structures create molecule-sized pores. The pores allow for selective intake of ions, a property useful for separation and purification. The most well known of Flanigen’s discoveries is Zeolite Y, which allowed for safer and more efficient processing of crude oil into gasoline. Other zeolites from Flanigen’s lab are used today in water purifiers and environmental cleanup efforts. Flanigen also coinvented the first synthetic emerald, which was used for masers and in jewelry. Flanigen has won numerous awards for her work, including the Perkins Medal (1992), the Lemelson MIT Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which was presented by President Obama in 2014. (Photo credit: Xenia Krüger)

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