Mention the subject of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and you are bound to hear the name Alex Pines, whose research on solid-state NMR and chemistry helped to revolutionize the field. Pines likes to point out that he and the science of NMR were born the same year (1945). Pines grew up in Rhodesia, and after pursuing his undergraduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem journeyed to MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in chemical physics.
At MIT, working under the noted chemist and NMR pioneer John Waugh, Pines used a technique called "cross-polarization" to transfer the polarized spin of hydrogen nuclei to the nuclei of carbon-13 atoms. This made possible the first high-resolution NMR study of carbon-13 in solids and opened the door to the modern era of solid-state NMR spectroscopy.
Since joining Berkeley Lab and becoming a professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1975, Pines has achieved international recognition as one of the world's premier NMR innovators. Pines credits the tradition of multidisciplinary collaborations at Berkeley Lab as having much to do with his success. He has maintained several major collaborations that have been bearing fruitful results since the 1980s. Among his collaboraters are Erwin Hahn, a UC Berkeley physicist, whose pioneering theoretical work in the 1960s served as the basis for Pines' groundbreaking NMR research at MIT; Jeffrey Reimer of the Materials Science Division, who has helped Pines apply NMR to surfaces and polymers; Dr. Thomas Budinger, director of the Center for Functional Imaging in the Life Sciences Division; and John Clarke, who leads SQUIDs research at the Center for Advanced Materials. Most recently, Pines has been working with David Wemmer, of the Structural Biology Division, a former student who is now using NMR techniques to study the form and function of proteins. In addition, Pines has worked with scores of researchers elsewhere across the United States and around the globe.
Because of all the students he has trained, Pines' influence on the field of NMR is guaranteed to continue for many years to come. Hundreds of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers have passed through his laboratory in the sub-basement of Hildebrand Hall on the UCB campus (shown below are some of Pines' current group). Many of his students can now be found in the halls of academia such as Yale, MIT, Princeton, Cal Tech, and, of course, UC Berkeley. They can also be found in the cutting-edge laboratories of private industry, like IBM, Intel, DuPont, and AT&T.
But the influence of Pines is not limited to colleagues and advanced degree students. A decade ago he was approached by the great chemist George Pimentel, who was then chair of the UC Berkeley chemistry department, and asked to teach freshman chemistry. The typical enrollment for freshman chem at Cal is about 1,500 students.
"I told him no way am I going to do that," said Pines,
laughing as he told the story, "but George Pimentel was a very passionate and persuasive man, and after a stimulating lunch, I was sold."
Pines need not teach freshman chemistry today, but he still does, and with the enthusiasm of a new instructor.