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George W. Parshall (born September 19, 1929) is a distinguished member of the organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis communities and has played a key role in advising the U.S. Army in its ongoing effort to safely destroy chemical weapons.
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Born in Hackensack, Minnesota, Parshall received a Bachelor of Science degree with highest distinction from the University of Minnesota in 1951. He received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1954 under the direction of Reynold C. Fuson. In 1954, he joined Central Research Department of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company at the Experimental Station, where he rose to Director of Chemical Sciences. He took two industrial sabbaticals, one at Imperial College London in 1960-61 and another at University of Oxford in 1986. He was a visiting Ipatieff Lecturer at Northwestern University of the fall of 1994. Parshall is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Lambda Upsilon and Sigma Xi. He married Naomi B. Simpson on October 9, 1954.
Parshall is best known for the direction he provided in the development of organometallic chemistry and homogeneous catalysis. He directed the work of 50 to 100 DuPont scientists, including that of Richard Schrock who received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contribution to the metathesis method in organic chemistry. He was most closely associated with the DuPont processes for making critical polymer intermediates used in producing nylon and polyester and spandex. Parshall coauthored the definitive textbook on “Homogeneous Catalysis” with Steven Ittel. Parshall also directed the creation of alternatives to the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners that were shown to contribute to the destruction of the atmosphere’s ozone layer that protects us from damaging solar radiation.
When Parshall retired from DuPont in 1992, he joined the effort to destroy chemical weapon stockpiles in the United States and across the world. As a member of the National Research Council’s “Stockpile Committee,” he has played a key role in advising the U.S. Army in its ongoing effort to safely destroy chemical weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention called for the destruction of these chemicals, which generally fell into three types. There was mustard gas, the devastating chemical that left many blinded and scarred in World War I. The stockpile also contained two types of nerve toxins—VX and Sarin, which send the nervous system into overload, shutting down the respiratory system. Parshall has been an advisor on “neutralization” processes used to destroy these chemical weapons, which involve more chemistry than does the alternative, incineration.
Parshall is a member of the Guild of Scholars of The Episcopal Church.
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