UCLA alumnus wins 2010 Nobel in chemistry
By Alison Hewitt October 06, 2010 Category: Campus News
UCLA alumnus Richard Heck won the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry this morning, making him the sixth UCLA graduate to win a Nobel.
Heck developed a method to overcome the tricky process of joining carbon molecules, which in turn allows scientists to create any number of organic compounds. The process, known as the Heck reaction, is used in research worldwide, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize. Heck's discovery in the 1960s meant that medicines and many compounds normally found only in small quantities in nature could finally be replicated in large amounts.
Heck, 79, received his B.S. from UCLA in 1952 and his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1954, both in chemistry. He is now a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware. An American citizen, Heck shares the Nobel with Japanese researchers Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki — all of whom developed the winning method independently, said the Royal Swedish Academy.
The new Nobel laureates won for the development of palladium-catalyzed cross coupling, which uses atoms of the metal palladium to nudge reluctant carbon atoms together. The three will evenly split about $1.5 million in prize money.
"This chemical tool has vastly improved the possibilities for chemists to create sophisticated chemicals, for example, carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself," the Royal Swedish Academy said in a news release.
Heck, who retired to the Philippines with his wife a few years ago, spoke with Adam Smith, editor-in-chief of Nobelprize.org just hours after winning the award.
"I'm extremely grateful [to have won]. It was a big surprise to me. I didn't expect it," Heck said. "I don't think I'm going to do anything [to celebrate]. I just enjoy the feeling of having won it. I'm very much surprised."
This is the second year in a row that a UCLA alumnus has won a Nobel Prize. Heck joins UCLA's five alumni laureates and five faculty Nobel winners to mark the 11th UCLA-affiliated Nobel Prize.
"This is a remarkable legacy, reflecting the profound contributions of UCLA students, alumni and faculty to the advancement of science and to the enrichment of our society," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said Wednesday.
The UCLA alumni winners are Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences last year, William Sharpe (economics, 1990), Bruce Merrifield (chemistry, 1984), Glenn Seaborg (chemistry, 1951) and Ralph Bunche (peace, 1950). The five UCLA faculty winners are Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965) and Willard Libby (1960).