Remembering Professor Robert H. Grubbs
Robert H. Grubbs, the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry, passed away on December 19, 2021. Professor Grubbs, known by all simply as "Bob," won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2005 for the development of olefin metathesis catalysts that perform exchange reactions for carbon-carbon double bonds. In the Caltech News reflection on Bob's life, Peter Dervan, Bren Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, compared Bob to the great innovators of all time: "like Ben Franklin, Bob was drawn to ‘useful knowledge' and was very much driven by practical inventions that would be impactful." Indeed, many of Bob's inventions have impacted us all. His impact on the scientific community was immense in polymer science and organometallics; and his impact on everyday lives outside of the scientific community was no less, with contributions ranging from medical science innovation to materials insulating pipes in the Oil & Gas industry.
Bob was a prolific inventor and is named on over 200 issued US Patents, which led him to be a co-founder of numerous startup companies that licensed intellectual property from Caltech, including Materia—now a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Chemical Corp.—RxSight, Inc., Applaud Medical, Inc., polySpectra, Inc., and Cypris Materials, Inc. These companies produced innovations such as FDA-approved adjustable intraocular lenses for vision correction after cataract surgery, catalysts used to make Hepatitis C therapeutics, and thermal insulation for subsea pipelines.
In the last few years, his entrepreneurial activities peaked. In 2021 alone, he co-founded three startup companies. He was also a 2021 co-recipient of a Rothenberg Innovation Initiative (RI2) Award for Medical Polymers that Undergo Remotely Actuated Shape Change for Surgical Applications and a 2020 Merkin Translational Research Grant for Spray-On Antiviral Coatings. He also saw two companies that he had co-founded years ago reach successful exits: first with the initial public offering of RxSight, Inc. in the summer of 2021, and then with the acquisition of Materia, Inc. by ExxonMobil Chemical Company in the fall of 2021.
However, Bob not only prolifically generated his own ideas but also fostered environments of innovation for those around him. He pioneered a series of informal brainstorming symposia with Caltech scientists and UCSF physicians, aiming to bridge gaps between clinical medicine and scientific innovation. Among the many concepts born during these symposia, one outstanding idea led to the founding of Applaud Medical, a company which uses ultrasound to non-invasively break up kidney-stones. These symposia will continue in his name as the Caltech-UCSF Bob Grubbs Medical Innovation Symposia.
Bob's entrepreneurial spirit never waned, and he learned as much from ideas that succeeded as he did from those that did not. In his Caltech office, Bob could often be found sitting in a rocking chair next to a coffee table with inventions and polymer samples crowding its surface. He would happily describe both the successes and failures of these inventions to any visitor. There are few innovators worthy of a comparison to Ben Franklin, but in Bob, we have been fortunate to have had a modern-day Franklin in our community.
Professor Bob Grubbs
Descriptive image text goes here.