Frank Albert Cotton
Cotton in August 2005
Born(1930-04-09)April 9, 1930
DiedFebruary 20, 2007(2007-02-20) (aged 76)
Alma materHarvard University
AwardsWilliam H. Nichols Medal (1975)
National Medal of Science (1982)
NAS Award in Chemical Sciences (1990)
Priestley Medal (1998)
Wolf Prize (2000)
Scientific career
FieldsInorganic Chemistry
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Texas A&M University
Doctoral advisorGeoffrey Wilkinson[1]
Doctoral studentsRichard H. Holm, Stephen J. Lippard, Charles B. Harris, Tobin J. Marks, Hong-Cai (Joe) Zhou, John J. Wise, Walter G. Klemperer, John P. Fackler, Jr., Tong Ren, Richard D. Adams
Other notable studentsAda Yonath, Kim Renee Dunbar, Rinaldo Poli, Akhil Ranjan Chakravarty

Frank Albert Cotton FRS (April 9, 1930 – February 20, 2007)[1] was an American chemist. He was the W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. He authored over 1600 scientific articles.[2] Cotton was recognized for his research on the chemistry of the transition metals.

Early life and education

Cotton, known as "Al" Cotton, or "F Albert" on publications, was born on April 9, 1930, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended local public schools before attending Drexel University and then Temple University, both in Philadelphia.[2] After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from Temple in 1951, Cotton pursued a Ph.D. thesis under the guidance of Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson[1] at Harvard University where he worked on metallocenes.[3] He received his Ph.D. in 1955.[4]


Following his graduation from Harvard University, Cotton began teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1961, at 31-years-old, he became the youngest person to have received a full professorship at MIT.[2] His work emphasized both electronic structure and chemical synthesis. He pioneered the study of multiple bonding between transition metal atoms, starting with research on rhenium halides,[5] and in 1964 identified the quadruple bond in the Re
ion. His work soon focused on other metal-metal bonded species,[6] elucidating the structure of chromium(II) acetate.

He was an early proponent of single crystal X-ray diffraction as a tool for elucidating the extensive chemistry of metal complexes. Through his studies on clusters, he demonstrated that many exhibited "fluxionality", whereby ligands interchange coordination sites on spectroscopically observable time-scales. He coined the term "hapticity" and the nomenclature that derives from it.

In 1962 he undertook the crystal structure of the Staphylococcal nuclease enzyme,[7] solved to 2Å resolution in 1969, published in 1971,[8] and deposited in the Protein Data Bank (PDB code 1SNS) as one of the first dozen protein crystal structures.[9]

In 1972 Cotton moved to Texas A&M University as the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry. The following year he was named the Doherty-Welch Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He also served as the director of the university's Laboratory for Molecular Structure and Bonding.[2][10]

Pedagogical influence

In addition to his research, Cotton taught inorganic chemistry. He authored Chemical Applications of Group Theory.[11] This text focuses on group theoretical analysis of bonding and spectroscopy.

Among college students, Cotton is perhaps best known as the coauthor of the textbook Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, now in its sixth English edition.[12][13] Coauthored with his thesis advisor, Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, and now with coauthors Carlos Murillo and Manfred Bochmann, the textbook is colloquially known as "Cotton and Wilkinson." The text surveys coordination chemistry, cluster chemistry, homogeneous catalysis, and organometallic chemistry.[2][13]

Cotton served on various editorial boards of scientific journals, including those of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry, and Organometallics. He chaired the Division of Inorganic Chemistry of the ACS and was an ACS Councillor for five years. He served on the U.S. National Science Board (1986–1998), which oversees the National Science Foundation, and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Research Laboratory Commission of Texas.

Cotton supervised the thesis research of 116 doctoral students[10] as well as more than 150 postdoctoral associates.[4]


Among the awards Cotton received included the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1982,[14] the Wolf Prize in 2000; and the Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society's highest recognition, in 1998.[10]

In 1995, the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M along with the local section of the American Chemical Society, inaugurated the annual F.A. Cotton Medal for excellence in chemical research.

A second award named in his honor, the F. Albert Cotton Award for Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry,[15] is presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society each year.

Cotton was a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, and the corresponding academies in Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Denmark, as well as the American Philosophical Society. He received twenty-nine honorary doctorates.[10]

Run for ACS presidency

Cotton caused a controversy in his run for President of the American Chemical Society for 1984, wherein he mailed a letter to selected members describing his opponent as "a mediocre industrial chemist".[16] Cotton ultimately lost the bid to his opponent Dr. Warren D. Niederhauser of Rohm & Haas.[17]

F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research

The F.A. Cotton Medal, established in 1994, is awarded annually by the Texas A&M Section of the American Chemical Society to recognize accomplishments in research rather than distinction of any other sort, no matter how meritorious. The award is sponsored by the F. Albert Cotton Endowment Fund, which was initially raised by Carlos A. Murillo in honor of Frank Albert Cotton, to whom the first medal was awarded in 1995. The recipient receives, in addition to the medal, a bronze replica thereof and a certificate describing the award.[18]

Prize Winners of F. A. Cotton Medal

Source: Texas A&M Section of the American Chemical Society


Cotton died on February 20, 2007, in College Station, Texas from complications of a head injury he suffered in a fall in October 2006.[21] He was survived by his wife, the former Diane Dornacher, whom he married in 1959, and their two daughters, Jennifer and Jane.[2] The Brazos County Sheriff's Department opened an investigation into his death, describing his death as "suspicious".[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Chisholm, M. H.; Lord Lewis Of Newnham (2008). "Frank Albert Cotton. 9 April 1930 -- 20 February 2007". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 54: 95–115. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2008.0003.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Professor F Albert Cotton". The Daily Telegraph. 2007-03-02. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, G.; Pauson, P. L.; Cotton, F. A. (1954). "Bis-cyclopentadienyl Compounds of Nickel and Cobalt". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 76 (7): 1970–1974. doi:10.1021/ja01636a080.
  4. ^ a b Obituary in Current Science 92, 844 (25 March 2007)
  5. ^ Bertrand, J. A.; Cotton, F. A.; Dollase, W. A. (1963). "The Metal-Metal Bonded, Polynuclear Complex Anion in CsReCl4". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 85 (9): 1349–1350. doi:10.1021/ja00892a029.
  6. ^ Cotton, F. A.; Walton, R. A. "Multiple Bonds Between Metal Atoms" Oxford (Oxford): 1993. ISBN 0-19-855649-7.
  7. ^ Cotton FA, Hazen EE Jr, Richardson DC (1966). "Crystalline extracellular nuclease of Staphylococcal nuclease". Journal of Biological Chemistry. 241: 4389–4390. doi:10.1016/S0021-9258(18)99732-2.
  8. ^ Arnone, A.; Bier, C.J.; Cotton, F.A.; Day, V.W.; Hazen, E.E.; Richardson, D.C.; Richardson, J.S.; Yonath, A. (1971). "A High Resolution Structure of an Inhibitor Complex of the Extracellular Nuclease of Staphylococcus aureus". Journal of Biological Chemistry. 246 (7). Elsevier BV: 2302–2316. doi:10.1016/s0021-9258(19)77221-4. ISSN 0021-9258.
  9. ^ Richardson JS, Richardson DC (Mar 2013). "Studying and Polishing the PDB's Macromolecules". Biopolymers. 99 (3): 170–82. doi:10.1002/bip.22108. PMC 3535681. PMID 23023928.
  10. ^ a b c d "Internationally Prominent Chemist Dr. F. Albert Cotton Passed Away Tuesday At Age 76". Texas A&M University. 2007-02-21. Archived from the original on 2010-07-17. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
  11. ^ Cotton, F. A., Chemical Applications of Group Theory, John Wiley & Sons: New York, (1st ed. 1963, 3d ed. 1990). ISBN 0-471-51094-7
  12. ^ Wiley: Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, 6th Edition
  13. ^ a b Cotton, F. A. and Wilkinson, G., Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, John Wiley and Sons: New York, (1st ed. 1962, 6th ed. 1999). ISBN 978-0-471-19957-1
  14. ^ National Science Foundation – The President's National Medal of Science
  15. ^ "F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry". American Chemical Society.
  16. ^ Hargittai, Istvan (26 January 2000). Candid Science: Conversations With Famous Chemists. World Scientific. pp. 241–242. ISBN 978-1-78326-214-4. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  17. ^ "Niederhauser Serves as ACS President-elect". Badger Chemist Newsletter. No. 30. UW-Madison Libraries. 30 November 1983. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  18. ^ "F. A. Cotton Medal for Excellence Chemical Research". Texas A&M Section of the American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  19. ^ ACS Chemistry for Life Archived 2013-04-14 at
  20. ^ "F.A. Cotton Medal 2017". Archived from the original on 2017-04-07. Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  21. ^ "Texas A&M chemist F. Albert Cotton dies at age 76". Houston Chronicle. 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
  22. ^ "Professor Cotton's death investigated". The Eagle. 2007-04-18. Retrieved 2018-03-06.