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Chemistry professors lauded

By Mary Condello

Klaus Biemann and K. Barry Sharpless, professors of chemistry at MIT, were cited for outstanding research in chemistry by the American Chemical Society (ACS) last month.

Biemann received the Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry. This newly established award, sponsored by Extranuclear Laboratories, Inc., honors either fundamental work in the field or applications, alternating each year. This year, outstanding applications of mass spectrometry were recognized.

Biemann, who earned a Ph D in organic chemistry from the University of Innsbruck, Austria in 1951, has worked at MIT since 1955 and was named professor of chemistry in 1963. He describes his work as dealing with "the use of mass spectrometry to determine the structure of organic compounds of biological significance."

Head of the department of chemistry Christopher Walsh called Biemann "the central figure in modern mass spectroscopy in research." While chemists are often categorized either as analytical, organic or inorganic, Biemann bridges the gap between disciplines, Walsh said. He has "pioneered new techniques" that are of use in organic chemistry.

In addition, Biemann has done work with analytical significance, and has contributed to medicine with research that relates to drug metabolism and toxicology, he added.

Sharpless was one of ten recipients of the annual Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award. The award is given to acknowledge and promote exceptional achievements in organic chemistry, and includes a grant of $15,000 for unrestricted use in research.

Sharpless received his B A from Dartmouth College and his Ph D from Stanford University. He joined the MIT faculty in 1970, taught at Stanford from 1977 to 1980 and then returned to MIT.

Two past accomplishments which Sharpless values are receiving the ACS's Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry in 1982 and being elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985.

Sharpless' main area of research involves catalysis. He is "trying to develop selective man-made catalysts that are more general than enzymes," he said. Enzymes work well in the body, but man-made catalysts are sometimes preferred for reactions occuring outside the body, he added.

His work has applications in environmental areas and the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industry. While at Stanford, Sharpless developed a process now used in gypsy moth traps.

"He's the most creative and inventive synthetic organic chemist anywhere in his age group," said Walsh, adding "He's an infectious, enthusiastic lecturer."