Professor Mark Thompson
Winner: 2020 Stephanie L Kwolek Award
University of Southern California
For the discovery and development of inorganic molecular materials for flat panel displays and lighting, combining insights into the photophysical properties and synthesis of inorganic complexes.
Celebrate Professor Mark Thompson
Professor Mark Thompson’s work involves a high degree of molecular engineering. That phrase could mean a lot of things, but to him that is the design of molecules to achieve a certain goal. Sometimes that goal is to teach us more about the details of molecular chemistry and physics and other times it is to have a desired property we need for a given application.
A good example of this is his team’s work in organic LEDs (OLEDs). When designing and synthesizing molecules to understand the process of electroluminescence (the use of electricity to make light), the team developing this found a class of phosphorescent molecules that allow OLEDs to be fabricated with 100% efficient conversion of electricity to photons. This research led to the phosphorescent emitters that are used in virtually every commercial OLED panel today. This chemistry has been used in billions of smart phone and television screens worldwide.Read full biography
Professor Mark Thompson received his B.S. degree in Chemistry in 1980 (U.C. Berkeley), his PhD in chemistry in 1985 (California Institute of Technology) and was a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University. Prof Thompson is currently the Ray R. Irani Chair of Chemistry at the University of Southern California.
His research involves the study of materials and devices for electroluminescence, photovoltaics and solar cells, chemical/biological sensing and catalysis. Prof Thompson is the author of approximately 400 papers in refereed professional journals and holds more than 250 patents primarily in the areas of optoelectronic applications, such as light emitting devices (LEDs) and solar cells.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
My father was a high school chemistry teacher and he instilled an interest in science in me at an early age. Seeing how much he enjoyed, and was motivated by science, was inspiring. While I didn’t settle on chemistry over the other natural sciences until high school, the choice of a career in the sciences was set in grammar school.
What has been a highlight for you?
Being able to see your work applied outside of a research lab is very exciting. While our focus is always on doing good quality scientific research, seeing your work used and appreciated by your scientific community and in society as a whole is very fulfilling.
Why do you think teamwork is important in science?
Teamwork is not only important, it is essential. The best ideas are the ones that evolve from discussion and iteration, not the ones that come out of thin air. In addition, the research landscape has become very complicated and for a single researcher to master all of the tools they need to do their work and understand the challenges in different fields is impossible. They might learn enough to move forward, but not nearly as fast as they could with the right team. The best outcome comes from a team where everyone is doing what they do best.
What is your favourite element?
It is a toss-up between Sc (scandium) and Ir (iridium). Both have been central in my most gratifying work, Scandium in graduate school and iridium as a professor at USC.