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Corwin Hansch Dies At 92

From a liberal arts institution, he helped create the field of computer-assisted drug design

by Susan J. Ainsworth
June 6, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 23

Credit: Pomona College
Credit: Pomona College

Corwin H. Hansch, 92, emeritus professor of chemistry at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., known as the father of computer-assisted molecular design, died on May 8 after a prolonged bout with pneu monia.

Born in Kenmare, N.D., Hansch received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1940 and a Ph.D. from New York University in 1944. After a brief postdoctoral stint at the University of Illinois, Chicago, he worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago and at DuPont in Richland, Wash.

After World War II ended, he took a position as a research chemist at DuPont but left shortly thereafter, joining Pomona’s faculty in 1946.

Hansch focused his studies on the correlation of biological activity with chemical structure. This research led to his seminal work in quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) modeling, which revolutionized computer-assisted drug design.

The methodology that he developed is now used in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and agrochemical companies. Hansch continued his research until 2010, although he retired from Pomona in 1988.

“The depth, intensity, and exceptional longevity of his research in the field spanning more than five decades has had a deep influence on several generations of researchers in medicinal chemistry and fueled many diverse applications of QSAR,” says Alexander Tropsha, a pharmacy professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and vice chair of the Cheminformatics & QSAR Society, where Hansch served as honorary chair since the society was formed in 1991. “As a true pioneer and the greatest contributor in our field of computer-assisted drug design, Corwin leaves a scientific legacy that will surely outlive any, even the youngest, of his contemporaries.”

Hansch published numerous books and authored or coauthored more than 400 publications. He completed two sabbaticals, one at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) under a Guggenheim fellowship, and another at the University of Munich. He also received two Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professor Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

“Corwin was a brilliant, engaging, and dynamic scholar and teacher who challenged both his undergraduate students and his research collaborators to go the extra mile and think outside the box,” says Cynthia Selassie, associate dean and professor of chemistry at Pomona, who was a long-term Hansch collaborator. “He excelled at probing the minds of all those around him and was genuinely interested in what he gleaned from these encounters.” In addition, “his work underscored the importance of research at primarily undergraduate institutions.”

Hansch received the first ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution in 1986, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Smissman Award from the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry in 1975, and the ACS Award for Computers in Chemical & Pharmaceutical Research in 1999. He was elected to the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1990 and inducted into the ACS Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame in 2007. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1941.

He read voraciously, loved to travel, and enjoyed skiing.

Hansch is survived by his wife of 66 years, Gloria, and a son, Clifford. His daughter, Carol Hemminger, predeceased him.


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