Obituaries | January 22, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 4 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 4 | p. 61 | Obituaries
Issue Date: January 22, 2007


Department: ACS News

Enzymologist William Jencks Dies At 79


Attendees at the 20th Enzyme Mechanisms Conference (EMC) in St. Pete Beach, Fla., learned on Jan. 5 that Brandeis University professor emeritus of biochemistry William P. Jencks, 79—who cofounded the meeting in the 1960s and is considered to be one of the founding fathers of mechanistic enzymology-died on Jan. 3 after a long illness.

"A very fine, generous, extraordinary person has passed away," said chemistry professor John P. Richard of the State University of New York, Buffalo, when he announced Jencks's death at the EMC meeting. "About 50 years ago, Bill decided to understand how enzymes work, how they catalyze chemical reactions, and how they stabilize transition states for these reactions. At the time, this was an impossibly complicated problem."

Jencks was well-known to many attendees at the conference. After hearing the news from Richard around noon on Friday, a number of them discussed it quietly, some with tears in their eyes.

Jencks did pioneering research on the molecular mechanisms by which enzymes catalyze reactions in living cells. He showed how enzymes reduce entropic barriers to such reactions by controlling the positions of substrates, how enzyme conformational changes can be used to speed thermodynamically unfavorable reaction steps, how transient intermediates form in enzymatic reactions, and how enzymes activate substrates by removing or donating protons or hydride ions.

Jencks and coworkers also studied the mechanisms of nonenzymatic reactions in aqueous solution and made fundamental contributions to understanding how chemical reactions influence motion-related biological processes, such as the translocation of ions across membranes.

Jencks was born on Aug. 15, 1927, in Bar Harbor, Maine. He earned an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1951 and interned at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, in Boston. He then served as a staff member and later as chief of the Army Medical Service Graduate School department of pharmacology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

In the mid-1950s, he was a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and Harvard University, the latter position in the group of the late chemistry professor Robert B. Woodward. In 1957, he moved to Brandeis, where he served as assistant professor, associate professor, and professor of biochemistry until 1996 and as professor emeritus of biochemistry after that.

Honors that Jencks received include the 1962 ACS Award in Biological Chemistry, the 1993 American Society of Biological Chemists Award, the 1995 ACS James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, and the 1996 ACS Repligen Award for Chemistry of Biological Processes. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a foreign member of the Royal Society, and a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Jencks's mechanistic interests also apparently extended beyond chemistry. At a 1996 symposium in honor of Jencks, Jack F. Kirsch of the University of California, Berkeley, recounted that on Jencks's daily drive from Lexington to Waltham, Mass., "he checked his progress, targeted at a precise 9 AM arrival, by a clock that was prominently visible on a highway billboard ad for a company that manufactured safes. There was a period when the clock stopped functioning, and Bill wrote a letter to the company, saying that his confidence in their safes was shaken by the fact that they could not keep their clocks going. The clock was fixed within a week."—Stu Borman

Alfred J. Canale, 86, an organic chemist who worked in the petroleum industry, died on July 28, 2006.

He received a B.A. from Colgate University in 1942 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cornell University in 1948. During his career, he worked for Rohm and Haas, Shell Oil, Tidewater Oil, and Sun Oil.

Family members say his love for science and nature was unmatched and that Canale was happiest when discussing the latest findings from a scientific journal or taking a brisk hike in the mountains of Oregon. He is survived by his former wife of 29 years, Mary Lou; four children; and two grandchildren. An emeritus member, he joined ACS in 1982.


Frank W. Putnam, 89, an emeritus professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington, died on Nov. 29, 2006.

He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Wesleyan University in 1939, a master's degree in 1940, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1942 from the University of Minnesota.

During World War II, while on the faculty at Duke University, Putnam served as a civilian in the U.S. Chemical Corps.

He began his lifelong study of human blood proteins, starting with Bence Jones proteins, when he joined the biochemistry department at the University of Chicago in 1947. In 1955, Putnam became professor and chair of the biochemistry department at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

After moving to Indiana University, he founded one of the first programs in molecular biology in 1965. His research team published the first complete primary structure of human gamma globulin in 1967. He subsequently published the first complete structures for two additional classes of immunoglobulins, IgA and IgM. In 1988, he received emeritus status.

Putnam was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He spent summers in Maine on Lake Meddybemps, where he water-skied until age 75. His wife, Dorothy Linder, died in 1997. He is survived by two children and five grandchildren. An emeritus member, he joined ACS in 1943.

Lawrence A. Wishner, 74, a professor of chemistry at Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., died on Oct. 7, 2006.

Wishner served as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. He received three degrees from the University of Maryland: a B.S. in agriculture in 1954, an M.S. in agriculture in 1961, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1964.

In 1961, Wishner joined the chemistry faculty of what is now the University of Mary Washington and retired in 1992. He served as chemistry chair (1967-71) and assistant dean for instruction (1971-77.)

Wishner taught a variety of courses, as his interests ranged from lipid oxidation to Islamic textiles. He published a book titled "Eastern Chipmunks: Secrets of Their Solitary Lives" in 1982.

He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Janet, and two daughters. An emeritus member, he joined ACS in 1963.


Obituaries are written by Rachel Petkewich. Obituary notices may be sent to and should include detailed educational and professional history.

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