Tribute in UP celebrates the life and work of Nobel laureate Richard Heck

The Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs in collaboration with the UP Diliman Institute of Chemistry held a tribute for Nobel laureate Richard F. Heck on 22 October 2015.

Heck, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis, died in the Philippines on October 10 after years of illness.

Guests from the Philippine scientific community, the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering, the US embassy and Heck’s family came to share anecdotes and lectures on the significance of Heck’s work.

“To be inventive, to be always in awe of what you see and to keep deciphering the mysteries of nature,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Gisela Concepcion on what she hoped the young generation would learn from the life of the man behind Heck Reaction.

Heck’s discovery was cited by the Nobel Prize organization as “one of the most sophisticated tools available to chemists today” which “would transform modern organic chemistry.” Among its many applications now is the large-scale production of the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen, the asthma drug montelukast and the substance used by the electronics industry for coating chips.

An exhibit of Heck’s memorabilia was mounted for the tribute (Photo credit: UP System Information Office)

In February 2012, an honorary doctorate was conferred on Heck by the De La Salle University. Accepting the honorary degree, Heck expressed how sheer passion and not illustrious prizes kept him driven in his work as a scientist.

“Never tire in doing research,” he said in his speech.

He added: “I had never thought the simple work of planting an empty yard would bloom and peak into an achievement of the noblest honor in the world of science.”

Heck was born in 1931 in Springfield, Massachussetts. His father was a department store salesman and his mother was a housewife. When they moved to Los Angeles in 1938, he was tasked to landscape their barren lot. It was during this time when he got interested in chemistry – growing orchids and working with fertilizers, nutrients and pigments in plants.

He published over 200 scientific papers before he retired with his Filipino wife Socorro in the Philippines in 2006. Socorro died two years after he won the Nobel prize. He had suffered from various ailments and survived cancer.

Socorro Nardo-Heck and Richard Heck. They were married for 30 years until Socorro’s death in 2012. (Photo credit: UP System Information Office)

During the tribute, Concepcion spoke of plans to institute a Richard Heck Memorial Lecture Series that will involve other Philippine universities.

More on the tribute and Heck’s life and work may be read on the UP System website.

More on the tribute program here.