Dr. Richard F. Heck, one of the 2010 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, died on October 10, 2015. He was 84. Dr. Heck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on December 10, 2010 for his work on joining carbon atoms together using a palladium catalyst, known as the Heck Reaction, which he did in the 1960s and 1970s.
The most important legacy he left is the groundwork he laid for many other scientists, including his fellow 2010 Nobel Laureates, Dr. Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and Dr. Ei-Ichi Negishi of Purdue University. Their works rely on Dr. Heck’s strategy on using a palladium catalyst to bond unreactive molecules. They were all cited for discovering “more efficient ways of linking carbon atoms together to build the complex molecules that are improving our everyday lives”.
Dr. Heck’s discovery created a huge impact not only in the development of pharmaceutical products─ medicines for pain, asthma, cancer, and AIDS, but also to our everyday lives─through products like herbicides, sunscreens, and materials for electronics.
Apart from the development of these products, his palladium catalyst was used to automate DNA sequencing and examine of the human genome through couple fluorescent dyes to DNA bases.
His contributions were recognized through the prestigious awards that he received. In 2004, University of Delaware’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry established the annual “Heck Lectureship”, an award given to recognize significant achievement in the field of Organometallic Chemistry. He was awarded the Wallace H. Carothers Award in 2005, given by the Delaware section of the American Chemical Society for creative applications of Chemistry that have had substantial commercial impact. In 2006, Dr. Heck received the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods by the American Chemical Society and the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal in 2011 for his work on palladium-catalyzed cross couplings.
Dr. Heck’s main goal was to make life simple through Chemistry. He started young when he and his father did some gardening, which made him wonder about the chemical contents of the fertilizer. He started reading about it, which made him more interested in Chemistry. He took Chemistry courses in high school and finished his bachelor’s degree (1952) and his doctorate (1954) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1957, he moved to Delaware to work for a chemical company before he started teaching at the University of Delaware until his retirement in 1989. After his retirement, he moved to the Philippines and lived with his wife, Socorro Nardo-Heck.
In his adopted country, Dr. Heck became involved in various chemistry-related activities. In 2011, Dr. Heck was the guest of honor in the 26th Philippine Chemistry Congress held in Cebu City where students had a very special session with him in the annual Chemistry contest for high school students. He was also the guest of honor in the 78th General Assembly Meeting of the National Research Council of the Philippines and the 2011 Philippine-American Academy of Science & Engineering Annual Meeting.
In 2012, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from De La Salle University, and served as an adjunct professor of its Chemistry Department. Dr. Heck also received recognition from the House of Representatives through the House Resolution filed on August 15, 2011 entitled “Resolution Expressing Deep Appreciation and Recognition to Professor Richard F. Heck, 2010 Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry, for His Great Achievement in the Field of Science”. (Aislynn Fabiola G. Manuel)