Remembering Electrochemistry Pioneer and Texas Science Legend Allen Bard

February 15, 2024 • by Staff Writer

The 'Father of Modern Electrochemistry' won the National Medal of Science, King Faisal International Prize, Wolf Prize and the Priestly Medal.

Black and white photo of a man with white hair in front of a chalkboard

Allen Bard. Photo by Marsha Miller.

The University of Texas at Austin community is mourning the loss of Allen J. Bard, known around the world as the father of modern electrochemistry. He was 90.

During nearly 65 years as a faculty member at UT, Bard received many of science’s most prestigious awards, among them a 2013 National Medal of Science and the 2019 King Faisal International Prize in Science, in recognition of his thought leadership and development of technology used by generations of electrochemists. As a result, according to President Emeritus Larry Faulkner, who was also a former student of Bard’s, he was “the most important scientist to have developed at UT through an entire career.” 

“The phrase ‘What starts here changes the world’ is underpinned by innumerable life-changing discoveries made by UT Austin researchers, and perhaps none more impactful than the discoveries of Allen Bard,” said President Jay Hartzell. “It is well documented that Allen’s work transformed his field. Yet equally important was his devotion to his students and preparing them to impact our world for the better. Today, we mourn Allen’s passing but also celebrate his contributions to modern-day science and his lifelong commitment to The University of Texas.”

Bard was born in New York City in 1933 and launched his academic career at UT shortly after completing a Ph.D. at Harvard University. His development of the scanning electrochemical microscope brought the world an analytical tool that has been used to discover new materials for technologies such as solar cells and batteries, to probe the inner workings of biological cells, and to show dynamic chemical activity at very high resolution. Scientists can use the scanning electrochemical microscope to rapidly analyze numerous samples, detect cancer cells and make contributions to energy research. Bard published more than 1,000 academic papers, wrote and co-wrote three books and received more than 30 patents. A range of advances in biological testing, chemistry research, physics and engineering can be traced back to Bard’s contributions.

A professor and student stand at a chalkboard working on a chemistry problem

Allen Bard with chemistry student. Photo by Marsha Miller.

The winner of such top awards as the Enrico Fermi Award, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the Olin-Palladium Award, the Priestley Medal and the Welch Award in Chemistry, as well as being a fellow of both the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Bard nonetheless liked to say that among his proudest achievements was mentoring more than 75 doctoral students and 150 postdoctoral fellows. He was humble about his work and place in science history.

“We all work on this [science] because we like it and because we understand that we’re building a structure,” Bard said in 2014 speaking on NPR’s “Science Friday.” “And we each put in a little brick here and there. If everybody puts in the right bricks and everybody works hard at it, you build a big structure of science, and it’s not so important who put the bricks in.”

“All of us who got to work with Allen Bard also got to have an inspiring glimpse of someone who is not only a preeminent researcher and among the best scientists of a generation but also one of the most dedicated mentors you could ask for,” said David Vanden Bout, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and a professor of chemistry. “He could speak as deeply about his philosophy of training future researchers for leading ethical, excellent and high-impact scientific careers as he could about electrochemistry.”

Electrochemistry involves the relationship between light, electricity and chemicals, and Bard’s contributions to the field were globe-spanning. Additionally, he developed electrogenerated chemiluminescence, a chemical reaction that produces light, which led to analytical tools for clinical diagnostics, biomedical research, DNA sensors, biodefense sensors, drug screening, food and water safety and environmental monitoring.

Photos of Allen Bard are available here: