Richard F. Heck, a UCLA alumnus who captured the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry, died Friday in Manila after suffering for years from a number of illnesses, including prostate cancer and diabetes. He was 84.
Along with Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki, Heck shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry for creating the “Heck reaction” (a palladium-catalyzed carbon cross-coupling reaction), which has been widely hailed for its widespread application in many areas of modern life, such as drug development, electronic display screens and DNA sequencing. According to the Nobel Prize organization, the discovery “would transform modern organic chemistry.” Heck was one of seven UCLA alumni Nobel laureates.
A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Heck moved with his parents to Los Angeles at age 8. He earned his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1952 and his Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry in 1954 from UCLA after working with Saul Winstein, a prominent professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who was a Medal of Science winner and one of the leading physical organic chemists of the 1950s and '60s.
After leaving UCLA, Heck did research for one year with Nobel laureate professor Vladimir Prelog at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. In 1955, Heck returned to UCLA and continued his research on neighboring group effects, an area of study which is now included in all organic chemistry textbooks.
In 1956, Heck went to work for the Hercules Powder Co. (now Ashland Inc.) at its research center in Wilmington, Delaware, where his research led to the Heck reaction. He left the company in 1971 to join the faculty of the University of Delaware where he continued work in his field of interest. He retired in 1989 as the Willis F. Harrington Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Delaware after a career in which he had published more than 200 scientific papers.
In 2011, Heck returned to UCLA to accept the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal at the annual Seaborg Symposium, hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Seaborg was also a UCLA alumnus who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1951.
Heck retired in 1989 and moved to the Philippines with his wife, Socorro Nardo-Heck, who was a native of that country. She died in 2012.