Issue Date: January 24, 2011
Claude S. Hudson Award In Carbohydrate Chemistry
Richard R. Schmidt, 75, came to carbohydrate chemistry late in life—in the late 1970s when he was in his 40s and already an established professor at the University of Constance, in Germany—but that didn’t stop him from developing a method that revolutionized the synthesis of complex sugars. For this work he has won the 2011 Claude S. Hudson Award.
“This method has become the method of choice for the construction of glycosidic linkages even for the most complex carbohydrates,” says Peter H. Seeberger, a carbohydrate chemist and a director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids & Interfaces, in Potsdam-Golm, Germany. “Chemists in this field refer to this class simply as the ‘Schmidt donors,’ and I don’t know of any of the accomplished players who have not used them.” Not surprisingly, Schmidt’s articles describing the method have been cited more than 1,000 times.
A Schmidt donor is a trichloroacetimidate group that is added to a hydroxyl group on a sugar as an anomeric activating group. Developing this activating method “revolutionized” oligosaccharide synthesis, says David R. Bundle, a carbohydrate chemist at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. Prior to Schmidt’s development, other reagents were difficult to prepare and were very unstable, he says. With the newly developed methodology, Schmidt and his colleagues built a potpourri of complex sugars, many with important biological roles, such as the N-linked glycan chains on important proteins or glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchors for cell membranes, which are involved in cell signaling. “Many of the targets his group synthesized constituted landmark achievements that few groups today can contemplate undertaking,” Bundle adds.
Schmidt hails from the south of Germany. He says he chose to study chemistry in university over other temptations such as law, math, and physics “because I didn’t learn much about chemistry in high school, and I thought I should know more.” Initially the discipline did not appeal to him at all, particularly the analytical labs, but he came to love it. “Whenever you concentrate hard enough on a subject you will find that it can become very interesting,” he says.
Schmidt received a Diploma and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Stuttgart in 1960 and 1962, respectively. Then he did postdoctoral work at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., before returning to Stuttgart to do a habilitation, which was then a prerequisite for a German professorship, and then launch his own independent career. In 1975, he moved to the University of Constance to take a position as a chaired professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
Initially, Schmidt did research in cycloaddition chemistry, which was “very popular” in the 1960s, he says. Then he moved on to study organometallic chemistry and nucleoside chemistry. The switch to carbohydrate chemistry came when he moved to Constance and discovered that another professor there was already active in nucleoside chemistry. To avoid competition at the same university, Schmidt turned his attention elsewhere. “I never was preoccupied with any given field of chemistry,” he says. Carbohydrate chemists can be thankful he directed some of his ample attention to advancing their field.
Schmidt will present the award address before the ACS Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry.
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