Nobel Laureate Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman

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):

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:

Nobel laureate Dr. Herbert Hauptman dies in NY at 94; work key to developing pharmaceuticals

By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, October 24, 12:11 PM

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Dr. Herbert Hauptman, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1985 and worked into his 90s at the New York research institute that bears his name, has died. He was 94.A colleague says Hauptman died in Buffalo on Sunday, not long after having a stroke.
Hauptman was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for developing mathematical methods for deducing the molecular structure of chemical compounds.At the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, chief executive Eaton Lattman described the mood Monday as sad as he discussed the importance of the institute president’s work.Lattman says the methodology for which Hauptman was recognized lets scientists make three-dimensional representations of drugs, a tool that’s had an important impact on the development of pharmaceuticals.

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