Picture of Dr. Nelson
Gordon L. Nelson is known to his colleagues as a man of amazing energy and conviction, dedicated to the furtherance of chemistry in the Southeast and truly deserving of the Herty Medal Award. Nelson currently holds the position of Professor of Chemistry and Dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at Florida Institute of Technology. Before joining Florida Tech in 1989, Nelson was a professor and chairman of the Polymer Science Department at the University of Southern Mississippi, vice president of Springborn Laboratories and a manger at GE Plastics. Dr. Nelson is a native of Palo Alto, California. He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno and his MS and Ph.D. from Yale University.
Gordon Nelson is well known as a leading chemist at the interface between basic science and application. For over 20 years he has been a major player in the study of the flammability aspects of polymers, particularly engineering plastics. He has been one of the few in industry and later in academia to conduct basic work directed toward an understanding of what makes polymers flame retardant, what mechanisms lead to smoke generation and how materials might be better designed to minimize smoke and toxic gas formation.
As manager of combustibility technology for the General Electric Company Plastics Group, Dr. Nelson developed a major multidisciplinary laboratory devoted to fire and plastics. Over 500 large-scale simulations of fire in plastic products were conducted with considerable new understanding attained. Dr. Nelson conducted some of the early industrial animal toxicity studies on products of combustion from burning polymers. He was the first to recognize the importance of CO2 in more fully accounting for the toxicity of CO in small-scale potency tests. Dr. Nelsons investigation of the usefulness of animal model testing for predicting human toxicity led to the creation of one of the largest databases of fire and automotive exhaust fatality data. Analysis of this data showed that fire fatalities are largely consistent with CO poisoning, with the introduction of new materials into the environment playing a minimal role. That work is published in the book Carbon Monoxide and Human Lethality published by Elsevier in 1993. As a result of this extensive experience he has been a significant voice in the voluntary standards process for fire safety.
An example of Nelsons contributions in the mechanistic arena is his work on modified polyphenylene oxide resin (m-PPO, virgin) and m-PPO flame retarded with triaryl phosphate (FR m-PPO) blended with zinc borate or zinc. Both virgin and FR m-PPO containing zinc borate showed a marked reduction in smoke production. In the synthetic area, new siloxane-urethane block copolymers were synthesized and the effect of a siloxane moiety on microphase segregation in soft/hard block copolymers studied. Polyurethanes have a wide range of naval applications; however, they are very flammable and produce extensive smoke on burning. An extensive series of polyurethanes with a low heat release rate (HRR) and low smoke release rate have been studied incorporating polydimethyl siloxanes and some phosphorous compounds. In the most extensive work yet published, structural effects leading to low HRR materials have been elucidated, including the use of diisocyanates, polyols and chain extenders.
Equal to Dr. Nelsons scientific contributions are his contributions to scientific leadership. Dr. Nelson was the 1988 President of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society. He has also served for 14 years on its Board of Directors. Dr. Nelsons presidency was a particularly active one. At Dr. Nelsons initiative the ACS joined with the Smithsonian Institution to construct the Science in American Life exhibit in the National Museum of American History which highlights the role of science for over 6 million visitors to the museum annually. His scientific association colleagues elected Dr. Nelson as 1992 chair of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. He has given extensive service to ASTM, the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association, and the Society of the Plastics Industry. After catalyzing considerable growth in the Polymer Science Department at the University of Southern Mississippi, he managed the start-up of the new College of Science and Liberal Arts at Florida Institute of Technology and was appointed to chair the Steering Committee of the NSF State-wide Systemic Education Initiative for Florida.
Dr. Nelson has been honored as a polymer science pioneer in Polymer News, 14(5) 148-9 (1989). His leadership in Mississippi was recognized by Mississippi House Concurrent Resolution #164 (1987). He received the Henry Hill Award from the ACS (1986) and the Man of the Year Award from the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1979. In 1989 he received the 58th Members and Fellows Lecture Award from the American Institute of Chemists. Dr. Nelson has authored, co-authored or edited eleven books and has over 100 publications in his areas of expertise. He is co-author of the pioneering text on C13NMR with George C. Levy, Carbon-13 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance for Organic Chemists.
The Georgia Section is pleased to present the Herty Award
to this outstanding southeastern chemist. The Award address,
A Career on Fire, will cover some of the results
discovered by Dr. Nelson on the hazards of fire and combustion
of synthetic and natural materials.
Details of the 1998 Herty Award Dinner
Past Herty Medal Winners
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Last Updated August 24, 1998.