University of Rochester

Two Chemists Honored for Research, Teaching, and Service

March 12, 1996

Two University of Rochester chemistry professors have been named Marshall Gates Distinguished Faculty Scholars. The new award is in honor of a former faculty member in the Department of Chemistry who is widely known for his excellent teaching, research, and decades of service to the University and to the chemistry community.

This year's awards to Robert Boeckman and James Farrar, both professors of chemistry, were made possible by a gift from Eastman Kodak. Boeckman and Farrar will be Gates Scholars for five years, and each will receive $15,000 toward his research.

"Both Jim and Bob embody what we all strive for here at the University: to be dedicated, effective teachers with outstanding research programs," said David Whitten, chair of the Department of Chemistry.

Farrar is an expert on chemical energy and is widely known for his efforts to track the energy movements in chemical reactions. With funding from the Department of Energy, Farrar uses lasers and other super-fast observation tools to watch chemical reactions as they happen, measuring heat and other types of energy. The work has applications in a variety of areas, including depletion of the ozone layer and combustion.

Combustion is a complex series of chemical reactions where molecules swap chemical groups in a mad rush, ultimately resulting in heat and flame as oxygen and fuel mix and ignite. This energy is used everyday to drive our engines and heat our homes. Understanding the process more precisely could result in new fuels that burn more cleanly. Just a slight increase in the efficiency of the process would dramatically boost the world's energy supply.

Farrar has guided the research of dozens of chemistry students, most of whom have taken jobs in industry. One former student recently supervised the construction of semiconductor plants in Spain, while another flies around the world making ozone depletion measurements.

Farrar, a graduate of Washington University and the University of Chicago, joined the University in 1976 after post- doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and has won several awards, including the University's highest teaching award, the Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Like Farrar, Boeckman performs very basic research. He is an organic chemist who has devoted his research career to developing new tools that pharmaceutical companies can use in the discovery and development of new drugs. The preparation of drugs usually involves dozens of steps, and chemists try to exert precise control over all of them to produce a molecule that won't have harmful side effects. Boeckman's specialty is the 3-D design of complex organic molecules, whose shape is the key to their ability to bind to and affect other molecules.

For the development of new drugs, scientists need a variety of chemical tools. "What works well with one class of molecules may not work for another," says Boeckman. "Most people have several screwdrivers, each with a specific purpose. It's the same with drug design: We need many, many tools to manipulate molecules, depending on the situation."

With funding from the National Institutes of Health and several pharmaceutical companies, Boeckman tests out his new tools on particularly challenging or important compounds including antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, and drugs to help prevent organ rejection. His group is now trying to make a drug that is used to prevent rejection in kidney transplants more quickly, less expensively, and with less toxicity.

A graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, Boeckman has won several awards and is a frequent consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. He has trained dozens of chemists, most of whom are now working in industry. Boeckman came to the University in 1980 from Wayne State University, where he was a chemistry professor.

Gates Scholar awards are given to chemistry faculty members who have outstanding research and teaching programs, much as Marshall Gates did before he retired in 1981. Gates, Charles F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry emeritus, is known around the world as the first person to synthesize morphine in the laboratory, work that helped launch Rochester's chemistry program to national prominence. He was also a leader in the international chemistry community, serving for 20 years as assistant editor and then editor in chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Gates, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the New York Academy of Science, was known on campus as an outstanding teacher who received the Edward Peck Curtis Award in 1967. tr