Halpern wins Welch Award
Jack Halpern, Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry, has been named co-recipient of the 1994 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. The award, presented annually by the Welch Foundation, recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of chemistry for the betterment of mankind.
Halpern will receive a gold medallion and share the $300,000 award with F. Albert Cotton, the Doherty-Welch Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. The two chemists will be honored at a ceremony on Oct. 24 in Houston. The Welch Foundation sponsored an announcement dinner in Halpern's honor last week at the Smart Museum of Art.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Halpern has pursued research in areas ranging from physical organic chemistry to organometallic and inorganic chemistry.
"My interests cut across the traditional boundaries of chemistry, but a central theme of most of what I have done has been an attempt to understand, at a detailed molecular level, how chemical reactions occur," he said.
Halpern's work, notably on the reactions of hydrogen with metal complexes in solution, laid the foundation for key developments in the field of homogeneous catalysis that are now being pursued in academic and industrial research laboratories worldwide. He also made seminal contributions to understanding the mechanisms of asymmetric catalysts, which add hydrogen selectively to one face of a molecule to make one of the "mirror images" of the resulting product. Increasingly, pharmaceuticals -- for example, L-dopa, a drug for the treatment of Parkinson's disease -- are made by such processes.
Halpern continues to work in the area of asymmetric catalysis, and he is also seeking to elucidate the biological mechanism of action of Vitamin B12.
"I continue to find research into reaction mechanisms very exciting," he said. "We never seem to run out of things to do, because people are always discovering new reactions, and new tools are always being invented."
Born in Poland, Halpern moved to Canada as a child. He received his B.S. in 1946 and his Ph.D. in 1949 from McGill University in Montreal. After teaching at the University of British Columbia for 12 years, he joined the Chicago faculty as Professor in 1962. He was named Louis Block Professor in 1971 and Distinguished Service Professor in 1984.
He currently serves as vice president of the National Academy of Sciences, and he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Royal Society of London.