Joseph J. Katz

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Joseph J. Katz
Born (1912-04-19)April 19, 1912
Detroit, Michigan
Died January 28, 2008(2008-01-28) (aged 95)
Detroit, Michigan
Nationality American
Institutions Argonne National Laboratory
Alma mater University of Chicago
Doctoral advisor Frank R. Mayo[1]
Notable students Michael R. Wasielewski[1]
Notable awards 1992 Rumford Prize

Joseph J. Katz (April 19, 1912, Detroit – January 28, 2008, Detroit) was a chemist at Argonne National Laboratory whose fundamental research on the chemistry of photosynthesis led to his election to the US National Academy of Science. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Czarist Russia. Neither parent had any formal education.

Education and independent research[edit]

His college education was in chemistry at the College of the City of Detroit (now Wayne State University). He worked for the next seven years at small companies in Detroit, developing adhesives, metal polishing compounds, lubricants and other specialty chemical formulations used in the automobile industry. While working in Detroit after receiving his bachelor's degree, Katz and several colleagues rented a room in a Detroit office building and used it as a laboratory. They carried out independent research from 1932 through 1939, trying to cure tuberculosis by finding a substance that could dissolve the fatty outer coating of the TB bacillus so that it would be vulnerable to being destroyed by a drug. He and a Detroit colleague published two papers on studies with the bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis, a fast-growing and non-pathogenic bacillus with similar physical properties to the tuberculosis bacillus.

Unemployed in summer 1939, he followed a suggestion from a former teacher and applied to graduate school in chemistry at the University of Chicago. His thesis research in physical organic chemistry under the supervision of Frank R. Mayo was a study of the mechanism of addition of hydrogen chloride to isobutene in a solvent of low dielectric constant. He received the PhD degree in March 1942. [[[2]]] Fe|By, Tribune staff reporter

Metallurgical research[edit]

He then joined the research group of H. I. Schlesinger and H. C. Brown to synthesize volatile uranium compounds that might be useful for gaseous diffusion of 235U from 238U. As suggested by his colleague Norman Davidson, he introduced himself to G.T. Seaborg. He and Seaborg had the same birth dates. On March 27, 1943 he joined Seaborg's Section C-1 in the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago. His responsibility was to develop methods for the extraction and purification of plutonium halides, especially fluorides, using microgram amounts of 239Pu from neutron irradiated uranium.

At the end of World War II, Winston M. Manning, another Metallurgical Laboratory chemist who was a planner of the new institution that was to replace that wartime laboratory, asked Katz to join the staff of the new Argonne National Laboratory. Thus, Dr. Katz began a career as a staff member of the Argonne National Laboratory Chemistry Division. He initiated a decade-long program in inorganic actinide chemistry, publishing papers on actinide oxides, borohydrides, and fluorides. This research led to several years of study of halogen fluorides, specifically when they are dissolved in liquid hydrogen fluoride, and to a focus on nuclear fuel technology: methods of separation of uranium, plutonium, and fission products in liquid hydrogen fluoride based on their differing volatilities.

Heavy-water studies[edit]

During the 1950s, an official of the US Atomic Energy Commission offered Katz a 55-gallon drum of heavy water enriched to 99.7% level of deuterium. With this initial supply of a rare commodity, Katz and his colleagues embarked on a research program to study the biological effects of replacement of hydrogen in living organisms by deuterium. A major part of this research was to grow deuterated autotrophic organisms (organisms that require only inorganic nutrients), which led to decades of growth of green algae in heavy water and to the harvesting of deuterated biochemical molecules from these algae at the Argonne "algae farm".

Heavy-water studies with autotrophic algae led Katz into investigations of the mechanisms of photosynthesis, the field that dominated the rest of his scientific career. Because the mechanisms incorporate electron transfer and free radicals, electron paramagnetic resonance techniques were used to understand how chlorophyll uses light to transfer electrons in photosynthesis. Nuclear magnetic resonance techniques were employed to study the molecular structures of chlorophyll molecules.

Awards and honors[edit]

Katz was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Inorganic and Nuclear Chemistry from its initiation in 1955 through 1983. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956. He received the Midwest Award of the American Chemical Society in 1969. In 1973, he became the first Argonne scientist elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

He achieved some fame (or perhaps notoriety) for the first "artificial leaf", an electrochemical cell in which electric current is produced by the action of sunlight on chlorophyll. An artificial leaf was the ultimate goal but the actual investigation was to identify the mechanism by which chlorophyll receives energy from sunlight, causing electron transfer and storing solar energy as sugars.

Joseph J. Katz was awarded the Rumford Prize in 1992 with James Norris and George Feher "for working towards the understanding of photosynthesis". His formal retirement took place in 1992, at which time he was named a Senior Scientist Emeritus. He remained active in a research, writing, and advising role into the 21st century. Argonne National Laboratory has a named postdoctoral fellowship in honor of Joseph J. Katz.

Major publications[edit]

  • G. T. Seaborg, J. J. Katz, and W. M. Manning, (eds.) (1949) The Transuranium Elements: Research Papers, Natl. Nucl. En. Ser., Div. IV, 14B, McGraw‐Hill, New York.
  • Joseph J. Katz and Eugene Rabinowitch, (1951) The Chemistry of Uranium, McGraw-Hill, New York. (Reprinted 1961 by Dover Publications, New York.)
  • Glenn T. Seaborg and Joseph J. Katz (eds.), The Actinide Elements (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1954).
  • Joseph J. Katz and Glenn T. Seaborg, The Chemistry of the Actinide Elements, Methuen, London and New York, 1957.
  • Joseph J. Katz and Eugene Rabinowitch (eds.), (1958) Chemistry of Uranium, Collected Papers, 2 vols. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Technical Information Service, Oak Ridge, TN, TID-5290.
  • J. R. Norris, R. A. Uphaus, H. L. Crespi and J J Katz (1971), Electron spin resonance of chlorophyll and the origin of Signal I in photosynthesis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 68: 625-628
  • M. C. Thurnauer, J. J. Katz, and J. R. Norris, Triplet-State In Bacterial Photosynthesis - Possible Mechanisms Of Primary Photo-Act, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 72, 3270-3274, 1975.
  • L. L. Shipman, T. M. Cotton, J. R. Norris, and J. J. Katz, New Proposal for Structure of Special-Pair Chlorophyll, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 73, 1791-1794, 1976.
  • Shipman, Lester L.; Cotton, Therese M.; Norris, James R.; Katz, Joseph J. (December 1976). "An analysis of the visible absorption spectrum of chlorophyll a monomer, dimer, and oligomers in solution". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 98 (25): 8222–8230. doi:10.1021/ja00441a056. 
  • J. J. Katz, J. R. Norris, L. L. Shipman, M. C. Thurnauer, and M. R. Wasielewski, Chlorophyll Function In Photosynthetic Reaction Center, Annual Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering, Vol, 7, 393-434, 1978.
  • Joseph J. Katz, Glenn T. Seaborg, and Lester R. Morss (eds.), The Chemistry of the Actinide Elements, 2nd ed., Chapman & Hall, 1986.


  1. ^ a b "Joseph J. Katz". Chemistry Tree. Academic Tree. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Jensen, Trevor (February 6, 2008), "Joseph J. Katz: 1912 - 2008", Chicago Tribune, retrieved 14 November 2014 

Further reading[edit]

  • Joseph Katz and Aaron Lipsitz, Sodium Disecondary Butyl Naphthalene Sulphonate on the Growth of Mycobacterium smegmatis, J. Bacteriol. 1935, 30(4):419.
  • Joseph Katz and Aaron Lipsitz, Studies on the Effect of Synthetic Surface-active Materials on Bacterial Growth. II, J. Bacteriol. 1937, 33(5):479.
  • G. T. Seaborg, The Plutonium Story, Ronald L. Kathryn, Jerry B. Gough, and Gary T. Benefiel, eds., Battelle Press, Columbus, Ohio, 1994
  • Jack M. Holl, Argonne National Laboratory 1946-76, University of Illinois Press, 1997.
  • Bayard Webster, “An Artificial Leaf Helps In Photosynthesis Study,” New York Times, December 19, 1975:
  • Chemical and Engineering News, Feb. 16, 1976, p 32.