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April 28, 2003

Public chemistry lecture features Nobel laureate Herbert C. Brown

By Shawna Williams

Nobel laureate Herbert C. Brown will give the third annual Joseph F. Bunnett Research Organic Chemistry Lecture at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 2, in the University Center. Brown's talk, entitled "The Discovery and Exploration of a New Continent of Organic Chemistry," is free and open to the public.

Photo: Herbert C. Brown

Herbert C. Brown shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with German chemist Georg Wittig of the University of Heidelberg. Photo courtesy Purdue University

The R. B. Wetherill Research Professor Emeritus of chemistry at Purdue University, Brown is most famous for his pioneering work with boron compounds, which revolutionized synthetic organic chemistry.

While working for the Department of Defense during World War II, Brown found a way to make sodium borohydride. This compound opened a new path for making hydrogen gas, used in weather balloons during the war and in fuel cells today. This was the first of many important reactions made possible by boranes, compounds of boron and hydrogen.

Boranes, which Brown has called "possibly the most useful intermediates currently available," are now used in the synthesis of many organic compounds, including medications such as the antidepressant Prozac and the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.

In 1979, Brown shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with German chemist Georg Wittig of the University of Heidelberg. He has received many other medals, honorary doctorates, and fellowships in recognition of his work.

Brown received his B.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. He taught there and at Wayne State University before transferring to Purdue University, where he has remained since 1947.

Brown's lecture will be followed by a reception with locally produced food and wine at 5 p.m.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry hosts the Bunnett lecture series, which honors Professor Emeritus Joseph Bunnett. The series is supported by an endowment fund of private contributions.

Bunnett is famous both for his work in organic chemistry and for his dedication to the destruction of chemical weapons. He chaired the Committee on Chemical Weapons Destruction Technologies of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and has served on committees of the National Research Council, the Department of Defense, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He also cochaired the peer review committee of the Russian-American Joint Evaluation Program, which assisted Russia in destroying its chemical munitions.

Bunnett's research interests include kinetics, equilibria, and mechanisms of organic reactions. He has won a Guggenheim and two Fulbright fellowships, and has served as a visiting lecturer at universities on five continents.
For more information about the lecture, email April Barrett, call (831) 459-4002, or visit the web site.


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