Alan J. Heeger
1995 Balzan Prize for the Science of New Non-Biological Materials
Professor Heeger is one of the pioneers in the field of conducting polymers: a novel class of materials which promise revolutionary applications for electronic materials at a fraction of the cost of silicon-based semiconductors.
A few years ago, the idea that traditional organic polymers could exhibit electrical and optical properties, as metals and semiconductors do, would have been considered completely contradictory and unfeasible. On the contrary, the achievements of Professor Heeger and his students, colleagues and collaborators have resulted in the realisation of a new class of polymers with these outstanding properties. In 1977 he and his colleagues discovered conducting polymers, which are a novel class of materials with electrical and optical properties like metals and semiconductors, coupled with the processing advantages and mechanical properties of polymers.
Professor Heeger has not only been a leading personality in the discovery of conducting polymers, but also a pioneer in exploring the basic science underlying their properties and in establishing the conceptual and theoretical framework of the entire field. In addition, he encouraged the development of these novel polymers into stable materials suitable for broad use by industry in a wide range of applications.
An example of an important achievement of Professor Heeger and his colleagues was the discovery of the “counter-ion induced processibility of polyaniline”. This has resulted in stable processible metallic polymers.
Professor Heeger and his co-workers have developed the processible polyaniline technology to the point that it can be used in many industrial products. Examples of applications include conducting polymer blends for electromagnetic shielding and for antistatic packaging; conducting polymers for use in electrochemistry (including electrochromic windows and novel polymer batteries) and semiconducting polymers for use in the emerging field of “plastic electronic devices” which already include diodes, photo diodes, light-emitting diodes and transistors.
As a result of this process, a new field has developed at the interface of chemistry and physics. A host of new concepts has evolved which are of broad and fundamental scientific importance in fields ranging from Quantum Chemistry to Polymer Chemistry, from Electrochemistry to Condensed Matter Physics, from Semiconductor Device Physics to Electronic Materials Engineering in an ever-increasing international scientific interest and recognition.