Marye Anne Fox (1947–2021)

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  18 Jun 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6548, pp. 1268
DOI: 10.1126/science.abj7318

Marye Anne Fox, a leading force in the development of organic photochemistry, died on 9 May at the age of 73. Fox conducted groundbreaking research with applications in renewable energy and environmental chemistry, and she was a gifted university administrator and national leader. A pioneering woman in a male-dominated field, Fox freely gave advice to early-career women about how to become successful chemists while balancing both career and family. She was an outstanding educator who taught chemistry at all levels from middle school to graduate school, and she was an effective advocate for broadening inclusion in chemistry education and beyond.

Born in Canton, Ohio, on 9 December 1947, Fox was inspired by Sputnik to pursue a career as a scientist. She received her BS in chemistry from Notre Dame College in Ohio in 1969, her MS degree in chemistry from Cleveland State University in 1970, and her PhD in chemistry in 1974 from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In 1976, Fox joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin as the first female assistant professor and rose through the ranks; she was named to her first endowed chair in 1986 and was appointed as the first vice president for research in 1994. She then served as chancellor at both North Carolina State University and University of California San Diego (UCSD) before her retirement in 2012.

Fox made fundamental discoveries related to the mechanisms of chemical reactions that were initiated by light absorption or the application of electric fields. She built a career that went beyond the traditional bounds of condensed-phase organic chemistry to enable applications in biological and materials chemistry. A hallmark of her research was a desire to understand and exploit the chemistry of electronically excited states and charge transfer processes in molecules and molecular assemblies. She is credited with the origination of organic photoelectrochemistry, a technique that can purify organic-contaminated materials by exploiting wide bandgap semiconductor substrates to control the initiation of oxidative reactions. Fox aimed to address the grand challenge of efficient solar energy conversion, and her work on photocells that produce both electrical current and hydrogen gas achieved that goal by facilitating the development of clean energy sources.

Moving into ever-larger systems while maintaining a focus on mechanisms, Fox's laboratory gained insights into the role that electron–hole pair formation plays in conductivity at semiconductor–liquid interfaces in a variety of materials. This work yielded a panoply of tools for influencing interfacial electron transfer over long distances. The contributions made by Fox and her co-workers will have a lasting impact on these important fields.

Embedded Image

In addition to being a distinguished researcher and administrator, Fox was a gifted teacher and mentor. She was a certified secondary school chemistry and mathematics teacher in Ohio, and her teaching experiences in a disadvantaged school in East Cleveland shaped her understanding of education, the effort required for classroom instruction, and the principle that communicating clear expectations for strong student performance was essential. In her academic career, she supervised the graduate research of more than 75 students and many postdocs, and she coauthored a widely adopted textbook on organic chemistry that focused on the mechanistic approach, the hallmark of her own research program.

As the scientific impact of her research grew, Fox was increasingly called on to serve a broader mission. As vice president for research at the University of Texas at Austin, she supported the creation of new interdisciplinary institutes and improved technology transfer. As the 12th chancellor of North Carolina State University, she promoted the expansion of research, the educational mission, and the commercialization of intellectual property for the benefit of society. A science teaching laboratory building on that campus is now named in her honor.

In 2004, Fox became the first woman to serve as permanent chancellor of UCSD. We met while I was serving as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I found her to be an inspiring role model who persevered through challenging times with vision and a steady hand. She had a calm demeanor that lent itself well to engagement, and she was a gifted administrative leader. She led the university during an era of extraordinary campus growth while dealing with unprecedented financial challenges. She used her position to make UCSD one of the greenest campuses in the nation and to combat racism on campus. She engaged in dialogue with student leaders and empowered the campus community to address difficult issues. By instituting systemic changes in leadership with a focus on improving the campus climate, she paved the way for the establishment of a vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion to promote sustained progress. She also championed programs to support outreach to underrepresented communities in the broader San Diego region.

Fox served as an adviser to Governor George W. Bush of Texas and later served the nation on the National Science Board and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. She was elected, in 1994, to both the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and, in 1996, to the American Philosophical Society. In 2010, she was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama, the highest honor bestowed by the United States on a scientist.

Fox was a scientific pioneer in physical organic chemistry, an exceptional educator, and a gifted academic leader. She was motivated by a desire to discover and build, and thereby leave the world a better place. She was a role model for aspiring young scientists, especially women. Her efforts were fruitful, and the discipline of chemistry, institutions of higher education she served, and society overall continue to benefit immensely from her contributions.

View Abstract

Stay Connected to Science

Navigate This Article