Richard F. Heck

Richard F. Heck, the Willis F. Harrington Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Delaware, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Dec. 10, 2010, in Stockholm.

Heck was honored alongside fellow researchers Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and Ei-Ichi Negishi of Purdue University, “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” They shared a $1.5 million award.

According to the Nobel statement, the scientists were honored for discovering “more efficient ways of linking carbon atoms together to build the complex molecules that are improving our everyday lives.”

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling is used in research worldwide, as well as in the commercial production of pharmaceuticals and molecules used in the electronics industry.

In the 1960s, Heck discovered that arylmercury compounds undergo coupling reactions with alkenes when treated with either stoichiometric or catalytic palladium reagents. In the early 1970s, Heck (independently with Mizoroki) reported that these reactions could also be carried out using less toxic aryl halides in place of the mercury reagents, giving rise to the modern form of the reaction. This transformation has become known as the Heck Reaction. One of the most widely practiced transformations for carbon-carbon bond formation in organic synthesis, the Heck Reaction has had broad impact and is used in preparing countless complex organic molecules, including many pharmaceutical agents. A modification of the Heck Reaction, known as the Sonogashira Coupling, plays a key role in preparing the fluorescent dyes used in DNA sequencing.

Heck’s contributions have been recognized through a number of prestigious awards. In 2004, the University of Delaware Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry established the Heck Lectureship, an annual award given in recognition of significant achievement in the field of organometallic chemistry. In 2005, he was awarded the Wallace H. Carothers Award, bestowed by the Delaware section of the American Chemical Society for creative applications of chemistry that have had substantial commercial impact. In 2006, he received the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods from the American Chemical Society.

Heck was born in Springfield, Mass., on Aug. 15, 1931. He completed his bachelor of science degree (1952) and his doctorate (1954) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). After postdoctoral work, he took a position with Hercules in Wilmington, Del., in 1957, and joined the faculty of the University of Delaware in 1971, where he remained until his retirement in 1989. Heck died on Oct. 9, 2015, in Manila, the Philippines, where he lived. He was 84. His pioneering research changed the world in many fields, including pharmaceutical manufacture and discovery, DNA sequencing and electronics.

Daniel Nathans

Daniel Nathans, who graduated from the University of Delaware in 1950, summa cum laude with distinction in chemistry, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978. The prize, which he received alongside Werner Arber and Hamilton Smith, was "for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics."

Because his research laid the groundwork for the mapping of the human genome, Nathans is known as "the father of modern biotechnology."

As recorded in John Munroe's The University of Delaware: A History, when Nathans returned to Newark in 1979 to receive an honorary degree at commencement, he singled out six of his former professors to praise, three for their inspiration in his scientific studies -- Arnold Clark (biology), Quaesita Drake (chemistry) and Elizabeth Dyer (chemistry) -- and three for broadening his interests in other fields -- Anna J. DeArmond (English), Felix Oppenheim (political science) and Bernard Phillips (philosophy).

Nathans was inducted into the University of Delaware's Alumni Wall of Fame in 1985. He also returned to campus in 1993 and delivered remarks at the dedication of UD's Lammot du Pont Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility for chemistry and biochemistry research.

Nathans was born October 28,1928, in Wilmington, Del. He went on to study medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, completing his residency at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, and then undertook further research in biochemistry at Rockefeller University. Moving to Johns Hopkins University, Nathans taught in the department of microbiology for 37 years, served as department chairman and then as interim president in 1995. An inspiring mentor to his numerous graduate students, as well as a gifted researcher, Dr. Nathans also took to the task of presidential fundraiser. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, during the year Dr. Nathans served as president, the “university and hospital received a record $125.9 million from private donors.”

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nathans also received the highest award in science in the United States--the National Medal of Science. He died November 16, 1999, in Baltimore, Md., at the age of 71. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine named the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine in his honor posthumously along with Victor McKusick. In 2005, the School of Medicine named one of its four colleges after Nathans.

Other Notable Connections

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and its thousands of contributing members, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Albert (Al) Gore, Jr., "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." IPCC members at the University of Delaware include John Byrne, Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP); Frederick (Fritz) Nelson, professor of geography; and Neeloo Bhatti-McAndrew, assistant director of the UD Energy Institute. Bhatti-McAndrew contributed to the IPCC while working as an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory; she joined UD in December 2007.

  • Research by Burnaby Munson, C. Eugene Bennett Chair of Chemistry at UD, was the first cited by the Nobel committee in the award of the 2002 Nobel Prize to John Fenn and Koichi Tanaka. Munson, whose field is analytical and physical chemistry, is best known for his work on chemical ionization mass spectrometry, which has made it possible to obtain informative mass spectra of high-molecular weight and sensitive compounds.