Delaware’s Day For Richard Heck
May27

Delaware’s Day For Richard Heck

These days, it's hard to pull Richard Heck away from his orchids, from his life in a rented bungalow in the Philippines. But when you're a Nobel Laureate, folks tend to want to meet you, to glean some wisdom from your experiences, and to shower you with still more honors.   And so it was that Heck, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in organometallic chemistry, came back to the States with his wife Socorro to attend a symposium held in his honor. Over five hundred chemists from 20 states and from countries as far away as Japan packed a conference center at the event, held at the University of Delaware, Heck's academic home from 1971 to 1989. Luminaries in catalysis, including Heck's fellow laureate, Purdue University's Ei-ichi Negishi, gave presentations. Via a letter, Delaware's governor Jack Markell declared May 26, 2011 Richard Heck Day. The day truly belonged to Heck, a self-described introvert who at times seemed humbled by all the fuss. From what little I'd interacted with Heck, this came as no surprise. In May of last year I interviewed him for a story on named reactions, where his namesake chemistry, the Heck reaction (or Mizoroki-Heck reaction, depending on who you ask) was prominently featured. He was funny and self-deprecating in our brief interview, and he seemed settled enough in that flat in Quezon City that I figured I'd never meet him in person, even after his Nobel Prize was announced. When Delaware chemist Joseph Fox told me about the Heck symposium, I jumped at the chance to attend. "A lot of people know the Heck reaction," Fox, who emcee'd the proceedings and spearheaded their organization, said amidst the occasional camera flash from the audience and the local press. Fox reminded the audience that Heck has an intimidating resume far beyond the palladium-catalyzed process that bears his name, including one of the first reports of a pi-allyl metal complex, as well as work on transfer hydrogenation and the process that eventually came to be called the Sonogashira reaction. Heck "is one of my chemical heroes," said MIT's Stephen Buchwald, who presented his own team's work on Thursday. "This year the Nobel Committee got it right." Until relatively recently "organic chemists didn't do organometallic chemistry," UC Berkeley's Dean Toste told the crowd. "The Heck work really changed that." "We're humbled that much of this work took place at the University of Delaware, and so proud that our name can be linked with yours," the University of Delaware's President Patrick Harker told Heck and the audience. Witnessing the parade of praise for Heck next to me in the...

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