1956, Edith Flanigen began working on the emerging technology
of "molecular sieves," crystalline microporous structures
with large internal void volumes and molecular-sized pores. These
compounds can be used to purify and separate complex mixtures
and catalyze or speed the rate of hydrocarbon reactions, and have
widespread application in the petroleum refining and petrochemical
industries. During her 42-year career at Union Carbide and UOP,
Flanigen invented or co-invented over 200 novel synthetic materials,
and made substantial contributions to the product development
of zeolite Y, an aluminosilicate sieve used to make oil refining
more efficient, cleaner and safer. Her work with molecular sieves
also led to innovative applications in water purification and
environmental cleanup. Additionally, Flanigen invented a hydrothermal
emerald synthesis process, and pioneered the use of mid-infrared
spectroscopy for analyzing zeolite structures.
Flanigen was born in Buffalo, New York. She received a B.A. from
D'Youville College and an M.S. in inorganic-physical chemistry
from Syracuse University in 1952. Flanigen is holder of 108 U.S.
patents. In 1991, she became the first woman to be awarded the
Perkin Medal, America's top honor in applied chemistry.