David R. Bryant – 1st WF Chemistry Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Dr. David R. Bryant was named the winner of the 1st WF Chemistry Distinguished Alumni Award at the General Meeting of the WF Friends of Chemistry during the University’s recent Homecoming festivities.  Dr. Bryant received his B.S. degree in chemistry from Wake Forest in 1958 and then earned his Ph.D. at Duke University in organic chemistry in 1961. He then took a position at Union Carbide Corporation and spent his entire career there. He retired from Carbide in 2000 as Senior Corporate Fellow, where he won the Chairman’s Award three times, the most of anyone in the history of the company.

“His career at Union Carbide was multi-dimensional: he did fundamental research in organic chemistry in an industrial setting, contributing to Union Carbide’s research and development program through his scientific innovations. His early work involved the vinyl acetate process, research on rhodium and acrylic acid work.   He was innovative in the development of a method of producing vinyl acetate without halide, and later benzyl acetate, acrylic acid, and rhodium triphenylphospite in the Oxo process. Dr. Bryant is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on Oxo processes and in separating product from precious metal with the use of a homogeneous catalyst. During his career, he pursued roughly thirty-five different processes, nine of which reach commercial operation. He is listed as inventor on more than 90 U.S. patents (thirteen of which were filed after his retirement from Union Carbide).   Currently, there are 27 licensees worldwide using technology he assisted in developing.” (wikipedia – David R. Bryant)

Union Carbide recognized his leadership skills as he was on the selection team for new chemists, mentored them throughout their careers and was instrumental in implementing continuing education programs for all employees. He received numerous promotions [from Senior Chemist (1961-1967) to Research Scientist (1967-1975) to Senior Research Scientist (1975-1979) to Corporate Fellow (1979-1984) to Senior Corporate Fellow (1985)] and was the youngest Union Carbide appointment to Senior Corporate Fellow.

Based upon his numerous contributions to the field of organic industrial chemistry at Union Carbide, Dr. Bryant has been recognized by his peers and the scientific community with a number of impressive awards from different professional societies:

  • In 1977, Union Carbide (along with several other companies) was recognized with the Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Achievement Award (which recognizes and honors the most noteworthy chemical engineering technology commercialization anywhere in the world during the two years prior to a given award year).   The award was for the development of a low pressure Oxo process for the production of butyraldehyde from propylene and synthesis gas and Dr. Bryant was one of the lead Carbide scientists on that project.
  • In 1989, Dr. Bryant received the prestigious Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists for his contributions to Oxo processes.
  • In 1992, Dr. Bryant was recognized with the ACS Division of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Industrial Chemistry Award for outstanding technical accomplishments and leadership in industrial homogeneous catalysis and process development for the hydroformylation of olefins to Oxy products.
  • In 1993, he received the Carothers Award of the Delaware Section of the American Chemical Society. This award honors scientific innovators who have made outstanding contributions and advances in industrial applications of chemistry.
  • In 1998, Dr. Bryant was the recipient of the Perkin Medal for his innovation in applied chemistry resulting in outstanding commercial development (i.e., low pressure Oxo processes for producing aldehydes). This Medal is widely acknowledged as the highest honor in American industrial chemistry.   [Note:  for more details, there is a nice write-up in  C&EN, March 19, 1998, p42-43.

Not content with retirement, Dr. Bryant joined Renewable Algal Energy as an inventor and intellectual property manager in 2009. The RAE research entails working with non-GMO algae aquaculture, including harvesting and extraction oil from algae; with the aim of being able to produce algae-to-oil at commercially competitive rates.

Among other civic activities, Dr. Bryant teaches remedial mathematics, carpentry and electrical courses to disadvantaged women in a program called Step Up for Women in Charleston, WV.   He received the Distinguished West Virginian Award in 1998 (for his civic as well as scientific achievements).

Lastly, Dr. Bryant has been a friend of Wake Forest University and the Department of Chemistry over the years. For example, he was a founding contributor to the establishment of the Chemistry Endowment Fund which was spearheaded by the late Professor John W. Nowell in 1983.   In November, 1979, the WFU College Board of Visitors meeting focused on the chemistry & physics departments and their role on a liberal arts.   As an alumnus of the department, Dr. Bryant spoke eloquently on the important role that chemistry plays in a liberal arts education.   He presented the 1988 Vail Lectures in the department. In addition, he served as a member of the WFU College Board of Visitors for thirteen years.   Dr. Bryant received an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Wake Forest University in May, 1990.

As the award recipient, Dr Bryant will be making an official visit to campus in the Spring to present a seminar and meet with students and faculty.

The Next Distinguished Alumni award is scheduled for Homecoming 2016.  During Homecoming 2015 a Recent Alumnus Award will be named.