Willis F. Harrington Professor Emeritus Richard F. Heck of the University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry shares the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Richard F. Heck was born in Springfield, MA 1931. He completed both his B.S in 1952 and his Ph.D. in 1954 at UCLA, working with Saul Winstein. He undertook post-doctoral studies at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, then returned briefly to UCLA undertake further studies. In 1957 he moved to Wilmington, DE to take a position at Hercules Co, where he began his work studying the reactions of organic molecules with transition metals (known as transition metal organometallic chemistry). In 1971, Heck moved to the University of Delaware to take a faculty position in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and to continue his studies in organometallic chemistry.
During the late 1960’s Heck discovered that arylmercury compounds undergo coupling reactions with alkenes when treated with either stoichiometric or catalytic palladium reagents. In the early 1970’s, Heck (independently with Mizoroki) reported that these reactions could also carried out using less toxic aryl halides in place of the mercury reagents, giving rise to the modern form of the reaction. This transformation has become known as the Heck Reaction, in honor of Heck’s central contributions to its development.
Over the ensuing years, the Heck Reaction has become one of the most widely practiced transformations for carbon-carbon bond formation in organic synthesis, having generated over 5600 publications relating to the “Heck Reaction”. The Heck Reaction has had broad impact. The transformation has been used to prepare countless complex organic molecules, including many pharmaceutical agents. A modification of the Heck Reaction, know as the Sonogashira Coupling, plays a key role in preparing the fluorescent dyes used in DNA sequencing. The Heck Reaction has been subject of numerous review articles, including a recent monograph dedicated entirely to the transformation.
In addition to the development of Heck Reaction, Richard Heck’s work laid the foundation for much modern organometallic cross-coupling chemistry, including the reactions of aryl halides with boron reagents (Suzuki-Miyaura coupling), organotin reagents (Stille coupling), organomagnesium compounds (Kumada-Corriu coupling), silanes (Hiyama coupling) and organozincs reagents (Negishi coupling), as well as with alcohols and amines (Buchwald-Hartwig coupling). In addition, Heck was the first to characterize a palladium pi-allyl complex, contributing to the development of the Tsuji-Trost Reaction, and was the first to correctly propose the mechanism for alkene formylation. In addition, the Heck group also developed the palladium-catalyzed carbonylation of aryl halides, a widely used method for the preparation of carboxylate derivatives.
While at the University of Delaware, Heck rose to the rank of Willis F. Harrington Professor. He retired from the University in 1989, where he remains a Professor Emeritus.
Richard Heck’s contributions have been recognized through a number of prestigious awards. In 2004 the University of Delaware Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry established the Heck Lectureship, an annual award given in recognition of significant achievement in the field of organometallic chemistry. In 2005, he was awarded the Wallace H. Carothers Award, which recognizes creative applications of chemistry that have had substantial commercial impact. In 2006, he received the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods from the American Chemical Society. On Oct 6th, 2010 he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, which he shared with Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki.
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Delaware is proud to have Professor Heck as one of our colleagues and congratulates him for both his outstanding contributions to the field of organic synthesis and for his well-deserved recognition by the Nobel Committee.