Frank Albert Cotton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He received his BA in Chemistry from Temple University in 1951 and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1955. He began teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1955 and became full professor within merely six years. In 1972, he moved to Texas A & M University as the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and was named the following year the Doherty-Welsh Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He was also the Director of the Laboratory for Molecular Structure and Bonding at Texas A & M.
Professor Cotton was one of the world’s pre-eminent chemists. Both the quantity and the significance of his research were prodigious. He demonstrated an exceptional mastery of preparative chemistry, particularly in the fields of inorganic and organometallic chemistry. He discovered many new classes of compounds and the methods for preparing them. He also made seminal research on metalmetal bonds, particularly quadruple and other multiple bonds; his work in this field is said to have “transformed our understanding of how the chemistry of about half the periodic table really works.” Cotton’s research resulted in more than 1,600 scientific articles, authorship of many popular books that were translated into several other languages and the training of more than 100 Ph.D. students and 150 post-doctoral associates.. Two of his books, Advanced Inorganic Chemistry and Chemical Applications of Group Theory, became legends. The former book, which was coauthored with Sir Goeffrey Wilkinson, was first published in 1961 and is now in its 6th edition (with two additional co-authors); it incorporates more than 4000 references to literature and is considered like a bible of inorganic chemistry. The second book, first published in 1963, did the magic of introducing generations of chemists to the group theory and its applications in the analysis of bonding and spectroscopy. Professor Cotton also founded the important annual series Progress in Inorganic Chemistry and edited its first 10 volumes. He also chronicled metal-metal bonding in his book, Multiple Bonds Between Metal Atoms (jointly with R. A. Watson).
Professor Cotton was honored with many prestigious medals, awards, honorary doctorate degrees, fellowships and editorships. Among his most distinguished awards were the King Faisal International Prize for Science, Wolf Prize, Robert A. Welch Prize, Lavoiser Medal, Priestly Medal and the United States highest scientific award, the National Medal of Science. Two awards bearing his name, the F. A. Cotton Medal and the F. A. Cotton Award for Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry, were incepted to honor distinguished chemists. He died in 2007.
Professor Cotton is a world leader in the area of organometallic chemistry, metal carbonyl chemistry as well as metal atom cluster species. Through his pioneering work on multiple bonds between metal atoms, he has opened a new chapter in inorganic chemistry.
He has also been one of the most prolific contributors to scientific literature with over 1000 publications and several textbooks to his credit.