Lipscomb Feted In Honor Of His 90th Birthday | November 30, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 48 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 48 | p. 35 | Promotion
Issue Date: November 30, 2009

Lipscomb Feted In Honor Of His 90th Birthday

Department: ACS News
Credit: Amanda Yarnell/C&EN
Credit: Amanda Yarnell/C&EN

Former students and colleagues of William N. Lipscomb Jr. gathered on Nov. 15 in Cambridge, Mass., to celebrate the chemistry Nobelist's 90th birthday.

Lipscomb, a professor emeritus at Harvard University, won the 1976 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the chemical structure and bonding of the boranes. By the time he was awarded that prize, he had already begun to explore the three-dimensional structures and functions of enzymes.

The partygoers included two of this year's chemistry Nobel Prize winners, both of whom spent time in Lipscomb's lab years before their work on the ribosome's structure and function got the Nobel nod. Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University received his Ph.D. under Lipscomb, whereas Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science spent some time in Lipscomb's lab during her postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the party, both credited Lipscomb for inspiring them to pursue what was an incredibly important but daunting structure. (Not in attendance, but also among Lipscomb's Nobel-winning progeny is Cornell University theoretician Roald Hoffmann.)

Accolades aside, the night bore Lipscomb's characteristic sense of humor. The party favor was a flip book demonstrating how to tie Lipscomb's signature string tie, created by Lipscomb's wife, Jean, and Marc Abrahams, the brains behind the Ig Nobel Prizes. Lipscomb has long been a much-loved fixture at the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies, thanks to his comedic timing, Abrahams noted. And Lipscomb's son James recounted some of the better one-liners his dad sneaked into his scientific publications (

Lipscomb will turn 90 on Dec. 9.

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