The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1985
was awarded jointly to Herbert A. Hauptman and Jerome Karle “for their outstanding achievements in the development of direct methods for the determination of crystal structures”
Few cities can claim affiliation with a Nobel Laureate. Buffalo, NY is one such place. Dr. Hauptman was affiliated with the world-reknowned Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute which is committed to research in the field of X-ray crystallography.
Wikipedia has an article on the life of Dr. Hauptman who passed away on Sunday October 23, 2011.
Dr. Hauptman’s Nobel award resulted in being able to “see” things that could not be seen in other ways. He is credited as a pioneer in the field of X-Ray Crystallography.
When a drug is developed, it is designed to interact with a protein in the body. Proteins are extremely complicated three-dimensional structures. In order for a drug to interact with one of these proteins, it’s shape and composition must be determined. Here is a brief explanation from Wikipedia:
“X-ray crystallography is a method of determining the arrangement of atoms within a crystal, in which a beam of X-rays strikes a crystal and causes the beam of light to spread into many specific directions. From the angles and intensities of these diffracted beams, a crystallographer can produce a three-dimensional picture of the density of electrons within the crystal. From this electron density, the mean positions of the atoms in the crystal can be determined, as well as their chemical bonds, their disorder and various other information.”
A very simple explanation of how it works:
Proteins are very tiny. Looking at them through a microscope is likely not a satisfactory way to visualize them.
1. Collect a sample of a specific protein that you want to study (separate it from others using a centrifuge)
2. Through some trial and error, mix the protein with another chemical compound or mixture and get the protein to form a repeating crystal structure. (Think of a ice crystals growing on a frozen glass window in the winter). This is often the most difficult part, finding a compatible substrate and getting it to crystallize successfully.
3. Pass x-rays through them in a special device that records which way the x-ray’s are scattered.
4. Apply mathematical formulae and computer software to reverse engineer this diffraction pattern.
5. View your protein in three-dimensions on the computer so that you can engineer drugs that will interact with it.
Today on the radio (WNED 94.5 FM in Buffalo), radio DJ Peter Hall played listener request in memory of Dr. Hauptman, it was Charles Ives composition, The Unanswered Question. A fantastically contemplative but short piece of music for strings, flutes and solo trumpet. (This piece of music can also be heard in the movie The Thin Red Line).
Dr. Hauptman’s list of Honors and Achievements include the following (from Wikipedia):
- Belden Prize in Mathematics, City College of New York, 1936
- Scientific Research Society of America, Pure Science Award, Naval Research Laboratory, 1959
- President, Philosophical Society of Washington, 1969–1970
- President of the Association of Independent Research Institutes, 1979–1980
- Patterson Award in 1984 given by the American Crystallographic Association
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1985 (jointly with Jerome Karle)
- Honorary degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1985
- Honorary degree from CCNY in 1986
- Citizen of the Year Award, Buffalo Evening News, 1986
- Norton Medal, SUNY, 1986
- Schoellkopf Award, American Chemical Society (Western New York Chapter) 1986
- Gold Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1986
- Cooke Award, SUNY, 1987
- Establishment of the Eccles-Hauptman Student Award, SUNY in 1987
- Election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988
- Humanist Laureate Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 1988
- Honorary degree from the University of Parma, Italy in 1989
- Honorary degree from the D’Youville College, Buffalo, New York in 1989
- Honorary degree from Bar-Ilan University, Israel in 1990
- Honorary degree from Columbia University in 1990
- Honorary degree from Technical University of Lodz, Poland in 1992
- Honorary degree from Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada in 1993
- Honorary degree from SUNY at Buffalo,Buffalo, NY 2009.
As of the writing of this article, here is some press coverage of Dr. Hauptman and his passing on:
Additionally, the Washington Post published this short article: