"I still have the first crystals I grew in my first quarter in the lab," Kaner says. "The research was the highlight of my undergraduate education. When many people teach chemistry, they don't show the relevance it has to our lives." Honored in June with the UCLA Gold Shield Faculty Prize for Academic Excellence for his "extraordinary accomplishments" in teaching, research and university service, Kaner drew some lessons from his years as an undergraduate. One is to make sure that his students learn the excitement of chemistry. He enjoys teaching freshman chemistry, as well as advanced graduate seminars, and everything in between. Kaner incorporates new research into his lectures as soon as it is published, and shows how important chemistry is in our daily lives.
Kaner once bought 14 soccer balls at Toys R Us, which he assembled to illustrate the chemistry of pure carbon "buckyballs," which resemble soccer balls. "A man in line asked if I coach little league soccer," Kaner recalls.
A second lesson is to work closely with undergraduates on research. He has had 45 UCLA undergraduates work in his laboratory, as well as PhD candidates.
In his research in inorganic and materials chemistry, Kaner focuses on the design of new high-temperature materials and their synthesis by new chemical methods. He discovered a spectacular new method to make high-temperature ceramics in a few seconds that previously took days or even weeks. His research group has produced more than 100 materials using this method, and he has obtained three patents for the process, with two more pending.
A separate research project has led to his development of membranes for separating gases such as oxygen and nitrogen from air, a process of tremendous industrial importance. Kaner and a UCLA chemistry colleague hold two patents on some of the most selective oxygen/nitrogen membranes that have ever been produced.
In a third area of research, Kaner has synthesized novel superconductors based on a new molecular form of pure carbon - soccerball-like molecules known as fullerenes, or buckyballs.
William Gelbart, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, praises Kaner's teaching: "his classroom presentations are consummately prepared." Gelbart also notes the "inexhaustible energy and attention he devotes" to his students, and his "high standard of intellectual activity and personal integrity."
Kaner is the recipient of numerous awards, among them Guggenheim, Sloan, and Packard fellowships, premier awards from the American Chemical Society, and UCLA's Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award. Kaner's research is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.
The faculty prize was established by Gold Shield in 1986 to mark the group's 50th anniversary. Gold Shield is an honorary service and philanthropic organization for women graduates of UCLA whose members are chosen based on their university service and outstanding professional and community achievements. The organization provides financial support for student scholarships, the Oral History Program, and a new Gold Shield Faculty Prize Course in the College of Letters and Science.