Monday, October 12, 2015

RIP Richard Heck

I presume that most folks have heard the sad news already, but if not, Reuters reported that Professor Richard Heck (co-winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry) died on Friday: 
American chemist and Nobel laureate Richard Heck died in Manila on Saturday after years of illnesses that left him almost penniless, relatives of his Filipina wife said on Saturday. 
Heck, 84, along with Japanese Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki, won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2010 for inventing new ways to bind carbon atoms that were used in research to fight cancer and produce thin computer screens. 
He was affiliated with the University of Delaware in the United States when he developed his work on palladium as a catalyst, called the Heck reaction, in the 1960s and early 1970s. The two Japanese scientists came through with their variants of the same process in the late 1970s.
I liked Doug Taber's remembrance of him:
“Before Heck, all carbon-carbon bond formation required an equal amount of metal. Dick was the first to form carbon-carbon bonds using only a small amount of the expensive metal,” he said. “This was the beginning of organometallic catalysis, now the basis of everything from pharmaceutical synthesis to polymer production.” 
Taber also remembers Dr. Heck’s passion for horticulture. “When I first visited his home, in January, he disappeared into his heated greenhouse and came back with a perfectly ripe cherry tomato for me to eat.”  
My condolences to the Heck family. 

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. Interesting that he died almost penniless..hard to imagine for a nobel prize winner. He could have been an adjunct to make ends meet! Oh, wait.....

    Makes we want to understand what he did...need to find a review article on his work....

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  2. Sad to hear. My doctoral advisor did his postdoc with Heck (on Pd catalysis, of course). I never met him but only heard good things about him.

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  3. That was an incredibly depressing article. What a sad end of life story for a person who changed organic chemistry.

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    1. I agree. I don't quite understand how he could have died near penniless with the infusion of Nobel funds, although the health issues were probably part of that.

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    2. Nobel is only abt US$ 1 mill, so a third of that then Uncle Sam (I assume) takes 30 to 40%. It's not a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it's not a fortune.

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  4. This is very sad! I'm an organometallic chemist. I never met Prof. Heck, but always heard very good things about him.

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  5. Very distressed to hear this. It seems like such a short time ago that U. Del. had the symposium in his honor. A true gentleman.

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  6. True, it is a shame about Heck.

    But on the other hand, the media inflates chosen individuals to superhuman status in terms of their charisma, personality, genius, looks, family, you name it. However at the end of the day, most folks shrivel up and slowly fade away. At that stage of their lives, they are much less photogenic, interesting, wealthy etc. For example, my own father WAS a very famous scientist from back in the good old days: PNAS, National Geographic, major grants, good looking, hob-knobbed with international VIPs and so forth. Now he is 90 years old and half blind. Which person will be remembered?

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