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Chemistry Nobel Laureate Richard F. Heck Dies

Pioneer will be remembered for palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reaction that bears his name

by Mitch Jacoby
October 14, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 41

Credit: Evan Krape/U of Delaware
Image of Laureate Richards F. Heck.
Credit: Evan Krape/U of Delaware

Chemistry Nobel Laureate Richard F. Heck died Oct. 9 in Manila, the Philippines. He was 84.

Heck shared the 2010 Prize with Purdue University’s Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University for developing palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions. These reactions are widely used in organic synthesis to make a wide variety of chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and materials.

The cross-coupling chemistry that bears Heck’s name stems from pioneering work he carried out in the 1960s and ’70s while he was a research chemist at Hercules Powder. He discovered that palladium could catalyze carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions that couple aromatic rings and alkenes (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1968, DOI: 10.1021/ja01022a034).

“The breadth of Heck’s contributions to science was truly staggering and extends far beyond the Heck reaction,” says University of Delaware chemistry professor Joseph M. Fox. Heck was a chemistry professor at Delaware from 1971 to 1989. Fox explains that Heck was the first person to characterize a π-allyl metal complex and among the first to elucidate the mechanism of any transition-metal-catalyzed process.

Pennsylvania State University, Schuylkill, chemistry professor Lee J. Silverberg, who was Heck’s last graduate student, says Heck “was one of the nicest people I ever met. He was a kind and very humble man.”


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