RICHLAND, Wash. – When chemist-turned-manager Allison Campbell gathers her staff into the 88-seat auditorium at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, people line the walls to hear her speak. Using humor to make her points, Campbell reflects on staff successes, tells her team how they're making an impact, and inspires them into performing their best.
In addition to being a leader and mentor, Campbell is a successful scientist. By 2006, she developed and licensed a coating that improves the lifetime and success rate of implantable artificial joints. For both qualities, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, New York is honoring her with their Pioneer of Science Award. The award goes to individuals with a connection to western New York. Campbell earned her doctorate at State University of New York at Buffalo.
HWI is also honoring her advisor in graduate school, George Nancollas, a chemistry professor and researcher at SUNY, Buffalo. In doing so, HWI is highlighting how clinical research is built on more basic studies.
"If you look at any technology out there today, you can always tie it back to some fundamental discovery or advancement of knowledge ten, twenty, twenty-five years prior," said Campbell, director of EMSL at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "I'm proud that Professor Nancollas and I are being honored in this way, and that the Pioneer of Science award reflects the importance of research that seeks to uncover fundamental principles of life and matter."
EMSL is a Department of Energy facility available to scientists worldwide for collaborative and interdisciplinary research ranging from chemistry and biology to materials sciences and nanotechnology. The lab houses a supercomputer and more than 150 scientific instruments that are used by more than 700 scientists from around the world each year. EMSL scientists and staff push the integration of instruments and software at the facility.
As it happens, research that builds on itself reflects Campbell's scientific interests as well as her philosophy. In her early days, Campbell studied how proteins help form minerals in teeth. A basic understanding of the biological mineralization process — from laying down studs to building up structure — helped her develop a coating that helps artificial joints bond to real bone. This coating can also be filled with anti-bacterial agents to prevent infections after surgery.
"For me personally, I like what we call use-inspired research, which is where you work in the fundamental area but you've got your eye on applications," said Campbell. "Ultimately, you're interested in the properties of materials and how you manipulate the atoms and the molecules to get the properties that you want. You're not necessarily coming out with a widget, you're coming out with more knowledge and publications but towards an application. That's the area I like to work in."
This is not Campbell's first award. In 2002, the American Chemical Society honored her as one of 25 Women at the Forefront of Chemistry. In addition, her patented process for bone implant coatings received an Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium and an R&D 100 Award, both in 2006, as well as the American Chemical Society's 2005 Regional Industrial Innovation Award. The technology was licensed to a medical device company in 2004.
Campbell is participating in a day-long event tomorrow in Buffalo that includes speaking to area high school students and an evening awards dinner.