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Obituaries

Harvard chemist Richard Holm dies at age 87

Colleagues react to the passing of this pioneer in bioinorganic chemistry

by Linda Wang
February 18, 2021

 

Photo of Richard Holm.
Credit: Harvard University
Richard Holm

Richard H. Holm, 87, Higgins Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University, died on Feb. 15.

“He was one of the pioneers of the field now known as bioinorganic chemistry by bringing the art of synthetic inorganic chemistry to biology, creating metallocofactor active sites outside the protein milieu,” says Daniel G. Nocera, Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University.

This work led to greater insights into the role of the protein in controlling reactivity, says Edward I. Solomon, Monroe E. Spaght Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University. “We coedited a number of thematic issues of chemical reviews on bioinorganic topics and cowrote, with my then grad student Pierre Kennepohl, a massive overview of the field. During the process of writing this review (and many other collaborative research publications), Dick was demanding and incredibly scholarly but also surprisingly fun to interact with and unreserved in his thoughts. Dick’s passing is a great loss to our community and to me personally.”

Holm earned a BS in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1955 and a PhD in chemistry from MIT in 1959. Prior to joining Harvard University in 1980, he was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

“Dick Holm was a giant in the field of inorganic chemistry,” says colleague Cynthia Friend, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. “He was a visionary with exacting standards and a wonderful colleague. I am indebted to him for his friendship over the years and for his support when I was a new faculty member at Harvard. His leadership and presence will be sorely missed.”

Holm was the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the $500,000 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry in 2016, which he shared with Stephen J. Lippard, Arthur Amos Noyes Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “He showed us the synthetic pathway to, and structures of, many important metal-based units adapted by nature to perform important functions ranging from electron transfer to nitrogen fixation,” says Lippard. “He was also a terrific research mentor, whose thoroughness in training his students set the paradigm for the field. He was greatly admired, and we shall miss his wisdom and counsel.”

Correction

This story was updated on Feb. 18, 2021, to correct Holm's date of death. Holm died on Feb. 15, not Feb. 17 as originally stated.

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