Britain to honor UCLA professor with knighthood

Times Staff Writer

If they followed protocol, his students could call him Sir Fraser.

UCLA chemistry professor Fraser Stoddart, a world-renowned expert in molecular nanotechnology, is to be awarded a knighthood today by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

But Stoddart, a British subject who moved to the United States nearly a decade ago, said he would prefer that no one in the U.S. address him as "Sir."

"I embrace the informality of American, and particularly California, culture," said Stoddart, 64, his Scottish accent still strong after his years in the U.S.

Stoddart said he was honored by the knighthood, noting it would allow him "to be more influential, perhaps, in speaking on behalf of the importance of chemistry to science and the importance of nanotechnology."

Yet he also said he feared being away too much from his research and his position as director of the California NanoSystems Institute, which is opening a building at UCLA in the coming year.

Nanotechnology is research and development at the atomic level that seeks to create smaller and more powerful devices and systems in what some advocates say could be a revolution in industrial development. For example, part of Stoddart's work in tiny nanovalves -- smaller than living cells and capable of crossing cell membranes -- is being adapted for the delivery of cancer drugs.

Stoddart earned his bachelor's and doctorate degrees at the University of Edinburgh and later worked at universities and labs in Canada and Britain in a field of organic chemistry that focused on the mechanical bond in molecular compounds. He moved to UCLA in 1997.

Chemistry runs thickly through his family. His late wife was a chemist, as are their two daughters.

"Dr. Fraser Stoddart is one of the most eminent scientists in the world today, a towering figure in chemistry and nanoscience both here in California and in his native Britain. I am delighted that he is now going to be knighted by Her Majesty the Queen for his outstanding work," Bob Peirce, British consul general for the Los Angeles region, said in a statement Friday.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., said it was rare for an academic working outside Britain to be knighted.

The queen usually announces about 20 knighthoods twice a year.

This New Year's list includes such new knights as pianist George Shearing, industrial designer James Dyson and biographer Michael Holroyd.

Stoddart, who lives in Santa Monica, said Friday that he did not know whether he would travel to Britain for one of the queen's investiture ceremonies next year or attend a ceremony in Washington.

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