Richard Heck Day

Photos by Evan Krape, Kathy F. Atkinson and John Koh

On May 26, 2011, officially now Richard F. Heck Day at the University of Delaware, the Frontiers in Catalysis Symposium commenced at the Clayton Hall Conference Center. Over 500 people from around the world registered for this exciting event. Take-aki Mitsudo, one of Heck’s former post-docs now at Kyoto University, even travelled from Japan. Prof. Joe Fox, one of the main symposium organizers, led the scientific program, giving a history of Heck’s scientific achievements and introducing the speakers. Five international leaders in catalysis – Prof. Stephen Buchwald (MIT), Prof. Victor Snieckus (Queen’s University), Prof. Dean Toste (University of California, Berkeley), Prof. Melanie Sanford (University of Michigan) and Dr. Todd Nelson (Merck) – presented their research and their views of the impact of Heck’s work, before Prof. Ei-ichi Negishi, Heck’s co-laureate, delivered the 2011 Heck Lecture and received the eighth annual Heck Award. All the speakers described the tremendous influence that Heck’s work has had on their own research.

As the day’s grand finale, Heck, who traveled with his wife, Socorro, from their home in the Philippines for the event, gave an on-stage interview with CBC Chair Klaus Theopold. With incredible humility, Heck discussed how he initially became interested in chemistry while using fertilizers and other chemicals to plant a garden as a child. Heck, describing himself as an introvert, humbly relayed his initial apprehensions about teaching. In a powerful statement, he also encouraged students to pursue chemistry, or whatever future careers they choose, because they enjoy it and not because someone else says it’s important or for monetary gain.

Throughout the day, many congratulations were offered to Heck. UD President Patrick Harker began the symposium by declaring May 26th as Richard Heck Day at UD. Delaware Governor Jack Markell offered his congratulations and recognition of Heck’s achievements via a publicly read declaration. During the coffee breaks and luncheon, symposium attendees (including undergraduate and graduate students) surrounded Heck and congratulated him. Some even requested his signature on their symposium programs (or Heck sweatshirts).

The Frontiers in Catalysis Symposium was a valuable opportunity for CBC graduate students. They not only attended the symposium, but many also presented posters of their work to the many attendees. Through the generous support of sponsors – Ashland, Inc., Dow Chemical Company, the University of Delaware, DuPont, UD’s Center for Catalytic Science and Technology, and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute – this symposium was free to all attendees.

The week of the Frontiers in Catalysis Symposium coincided with the 2011 Commencement, where Heck received an Honorary Doctorate of Science. Heck also participated in the doctoral hooding ceremony, giving a speech to the Ph.D. graduates on the day before the University’s commencement ceremonies.

These events have been important reminders of the important and world-changing research that happens in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UD. They also reflect the dedication of CBC faculty to providing opportunities for our students to celebrate science and participate in symposia and other discussions with scientific leaders both inside and outside UD. It has truly been a great year to be a Blue Hen Chemist!

Article by -Mary Watson, Don Watson, and John Koh

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