Richard F. Heck, the Willis F. Harrington Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Heck, 79, was honored alongside fellow researchers Akira Suzuki, 80, of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and Ei-Ichi Negishi, 75, of Purdue University, "for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis." They will share a $1.5 million award.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences during a press conference held this morning in Stockholm. The Nobel laureates are scheduled to present their lectures Dec. 8, 2010.
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."
Speaking from the Philippines just an hour after learning of the award, Heck said that he was surprised, although not completely surprised, as their work had been suggested for the high honor. However, he said it is "a very nice conclusion."
"The University of Delaware is exceptionally proud of Prof. Richard F. Heck and his ground-breaking research in the field of chemistry, which has resulted in the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this morning," UD President Patrick Harker said.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment for Prof. Heck and his colleagues, acknowledging the development of a tremendously sophisticated tool that will aid scientists to make potential cancer drugs and medicines," UD Provost Tom Apple said.
Apple was a graduate student in chemistry when Heck was on the faculty at the University of Delaware. Heck retired in 1989 from the UD faculty.
Douglas Taber, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who has known Heck as a colleague since 1982, explained the importance of his work, saying, "All of pharmaceutical chemistry and photolithography, the making of computer chips, depends on carbon bond formation. His [Heck's] contribution was to make that bond catalytic in the expensive metal, making large-scale industrial production affordable. When DNA sequencing became important, Heck chemistry made the coupling of organic dyes to the DNA bases possible."
This is the second Nobel Prize winner with ties to the University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The late Daniel Nathans, who graduated from UD in 1950 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978.
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University of Delaware