University of Rochester

Marshall D. Gates Chemistry Chair Honors Pioneer

October 9, 2003

Marshall D. Gates, Jr., emeritus professor and C. F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry at the University of Rochester, will be honored and remembered with the dedication of a new chair in the Department of Chemistry. Gates, known worldwide as the first person to synthesize morphine in the laboratory, died Oct. 1 at his Pittsford (N.Y.) home. A scholar and teacher at the University of Rochester since 1949, Gates was 88.

The ceremony for the dedication of the new named professorship and the gathering to reflect on Gates' influence in the department will be held on Oct. 10, from 5 to 6 p.m. Robert K. Boeckman Jr., professor of chemistry and chair of the department, will also be honored at the event as he takes his place as the first holder of the new Marshall D. Gates, Jr. Chair of Chemistry.

In 1952, Gates established the Department of Chemistry as a major center of chemistry research when he made the breakthrough of synthesizing morphine for the first time in a laboratory. He subsequently created hundreds of compounds and was awarded 13 patents in his quest for the perfect painkiller. He was recognized as the C. F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry in 1968, and when he retired in 1981 on his 65th birthday, he became professor emeritus.

"My father had been thrilled about the chair," said his daughter, Virginia Searl. "He thought Bob Boeckman was the perfect person for it."

Following closely in the footsteps of Gates, Boeckman has devoted his research career to developing new tools that pharmaceutical companies can use in the discovery and development of new drugs. His specialty, the three-dimensional design of complex organic molecules, leads the way in designing drugs that can create a desired effect with a minimum of harmful side effects.

"I am really honored to be chosen as the first to hold the Marshall D. Gates Jr. Chair in Chemistry," says Boeckman. "Marshall was an important figure in organic chemistry in the 20th century, and since my own research is in the area of organic synthesis, it is a special recognition to hold a chair named in his honor. My fond hope is that my contributions will uphold the standard and proud tradition he established."

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 can 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. He has coauthored more than 120 research papers and book chapters, principally in the area of synthetic organic chemistry.

Boeckman's academic honors include an A.P. Sloan Fellowship, the Probus Club Award of Wayne State University for excellence in research, a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health, a, research prize from the Alexander Von Humboldt Stiftung, and a Fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.