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Dick van der Helm

by Susan J. Ainsworth
October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

Dick van der Helm, 77, a pioneer in siderophore chemistry, eminent crystallographer, and former professor of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, died of lung cancer at his home in Cincinnati, on April 28.

Born in Velsen, the Netherlands, van der Helm earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in 1952, 1956, and 1960, respectively, from the University of Amsterdam. During a postdoctoral stint with Lindo Patterson at the Institute for Cancer Research, in Philadelphia, he helped to develop computer programs for the analysis of crystallographic data.

In 1962, he joined the chemistry faculty at the University of Oklahoma and was appointed a George Lynn Cross Research Professor there in 1977. He retired in 2002.

Van der Helm devoted much of his career to the determination of structures of siderophores, iron-chelating compounds secreted by microorganisms. In collaboration with Johann Deisenhofer and other scientists, he contributed to the determination of the high-resolution structures of the enterobactin-binding membrane protein FepA and the iron citrate transporter FecA from Escherichia coli.

Van der Helm published more than 300 research papers, coauthored several book chapters, and coedited a book on siderophores. In 1980, he received the Award of Merit from the Oklahoma Academy of Science. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1958.

He is survived by his wife, Louise; six children; and nine grandchildren.


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