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Vol. 34 No. 4
July-August 2012

Icons of Boron Chemistry

This article is an effort to salute and revive the memory of 20 of the most-iconic figures in the field of boron chemistry. It is almost impossible to put a biographical sketch of each person in a paragraph or two. Therefore, by avoiding the detailed descriptions, the key features of their work are highlighted here, while maintaining a chronological order in accordance with their date of birth.

Anton Burg (1904–2003)

Anton Burg was the first American-born, American-educated boron chemist. He is our link to the distinguished past, to Herman I. Schlesinger, and through him to Alfred Stock, the pioneer of research on the boron hydrides. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of boron chemistry and is also credited as being the "father of chemistry at the University of Southern California." He joined USC as an assistant professor in 1939 and within a year became the chairman of the department. It was his relentless effort that helped the department of chemistry to succeed in acquiring major research grants and flourish within a few years. Burg was a major architect of many boron compounds that eventually became building blocks for more complex molecules. He was an athlete by nature and nationally ranked high jumper during his undergraduate studies. A bicyclist, who never drove a car, he passed away on 18 November 2003.

Boris M. Mikhailov (1906–1984)

Born in a village in Siberia in 1906, Boris Mikhailov received his Doctor of Science in Chemistry in 1948. He started as a head of laboratory at Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1954 and remained there until his death.

He was considered to be a pioneer of modern organoboron chemistry along with Herbert C. Brown of the USA and Roland Köster of Germany. His group studied the bonding properties of various three- and four-coordinated compounds and it made several discoveries, including allylboratoin, rearrangements involving 1,3-boron shift, reduction of aromatic aldehydes with trialkylboranes, and allylboron-alkyne- and allylboron-allene condensation.

William Sweet (1910–2001)

William Sweet graduated from the Harvard Medical School in 1936. After finishing his residency in neurosurgery/neurology at Billings Hospital, Chicago, he returned to Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital, where his career spanned almost 60 years. During this time, Sweet made major contributions to the field of academic neurosurgery. Although he was able to concentrate on both basic and clinical research, his primary interests were focused on boron neutron capture theory, treatment syndromes of facial pain, treatment of persistent pain in general, diagnosis and treatment craniopharygiomas, and diagnosis and treatment of optic gliomas. The founder of one of the first brain scan research laboratories, he performed one of the first successful carotid bifurcation reconstructions.

Herbert C. Brown (1912–2004)

Herbert C. Brown was born in London in 1912, received his doctoral degree in 1938 under the supervision of Herman I. Schlesinger from the University of Chicago, and worked briefly as a post-doctoral researcher under M.S. Kharasch in Chicago. He wrote in his autobiography that his failure to secure an industrial job led him to choose a career path that turned out to be the most beneficial for him, but also to the scientific community. After a short stay in Chicago as an instructor and at Wayne University as an assistant/associate professor, he joined Purdue University as a professor. He retired as a professor in 1978, but he was an active researcher until his death in 2004. The 1979 Nobel laureate won so many awards in his lifetime that to list them would require a whole article. Brown's tremendous scientific achievements included his earlier work involving synthesis of diboranes and sodium borohydride to the more recent development of quantitative methods to determine steric strains and the examination of the chemical effects of steric strains.

Robert W. Parry (1917–2006)

Born in Ogden, Utah, on 10 October 1917, Robert Parry graduated from the University of Illinois in 1946. After working for 23 years at the University of Michigan he moved to the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and served there through the rest of his life. Along with his research distinctions, he was an accomplished educator with a life-long devotion to the profession of chemistry. He co-authored high school chemistry text books and won numerous awards, including the Priestly Medal in 1993, the highest honor from the American Chemical Society. He was the founding editor of the ACS journal Inorganic Chemistry and served as the president of the American Chemical Society.

William N. Lipscomb Jr. (1919–2011)

Nobel Prize winner of 1976 in Chemistry, William Lipscomb Jr. began graduate school as a physics major. He changed his major under the influence of Linus Pauling and graduated in 1945 from the California Institute of Technology. He began his academic career at the University of Minnesota and then moved to Harvard University in 1959 where he remained until retirement in 1990. But Lipscomb, also popularly known as "the Colonel," never retired from Chemistry. His major involvement in boron chemistry was with the nature of the chemical bonds in boranes and carboranes. Later on, he focused on the structures of proteins and the reactivity of enzymes. A scientific genius with a great sense of humor, Lipscomb was an excellent mentor to many. Two of his graduate students and another one who spent some time in his laboratory went on to win Nobel Prizes.

Leonid I. Zakharkin (1923–2001)

Leonid I. Zakharkin was an outstanding scientist in many fields of organic and organometallic chemistry. He began his career at the Institute of Organoelement Compounds of the Academy of Sciences of USSR in 1954, the year it was founded. His initial research was on the chemistry of flavor substances and the telomerization of dienes. Later, Zakharkin took a leading role in the field of organoaluminium compounds in the USSR and became one of the pioneers of the chemistry of carborane. He received several awards recognizing his talent, including the USSR State Prize in Science and Technology in 1986, followed by the Russian Federation State Prize for "Chemistry of Carboranes and Polyhedral Boranes" in 1996. He was also a successful supervisor of many boron chemists including Vladimir Bregadze, Igor Chizhevsky, Valeriy Kalinin, and others who are prominent in their respective fields.

F. Gordon A. Stone (1925–2011)

Francis Gordon Albert Stone was born in Exeter, England, on 19 May 1925. After receiving his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1951 he worked with Anton Burg as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Southern California. He later joined Harvard University as an instructor and became an assistant professor in 1957. In 1963 he took a position as professor and chair of inorganic chemistry at Bristol University and remained there until his mandatory retirement in 1990. He then became the Welch Professor at Baylor University in Texas until his retirement in 2010, just a year prior to his death. Besides being an accomplished scientist, Stone was also inaugural co-editor of the series titled Advances in Organometallic Chemistry with Robert West. He was also a co-editor of Comprehensive Organometallic Chemistry, an encyclopedia of organometallic chemistry. In 1990, he was honored with the Civilian of the British Empire title by Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain.

Earl Muetterties (1927–1984)

Earl Muetterties was born in Elgin, Illinois, on 23 June 1927. After graduation from Harvard University in 1952, he joined the Central Research Department at DuPont. He served as associate director until 1967 when he decided to explore the academic field and became part of the adjunct faculty, first at Princeton University and then at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1973 he took the opportunity to become a full professor at Cornell and stayed there until 1978. He finally moved to UC-Berkeley and ended his career there. During his stay at DuPont he worked with boron hydrides and extended the chemistry of polyhedral borane anions such as B12H122- that was discovered earlier by Hawthorne at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. He was a unique individual who undoubtedly made a significant contribution to modern inorganic chemistry.

Jaromir Plešek (1927–2010)

Born in Hostašovice, Moravia, on 21 September 1927, Jaromir Plešek graduated in 1952 with a Masters degree from Prague Technical University. He worked in the same institute as an assistant professor of Organic Chemistry until 1958 and then joined a company named Polymers for Human Medicine as a research chemist. In 1961 he started working as a scientist in the Laboratory for Special Inorganic Chemistry in Rež. In 1965, he received his Ph.D. from Technical University, Pardubice, and became part of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at the Czech Academy of Sciences, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was an active researcher in the syntheses of boranes and heteroboranes, including their practical applications. He was also a co-founder of the IMEBORON conferences and the chairman of the organizing committee of the first meeting in 1971.

Robert Brotherton (1928–2001)

Born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1928, Robert Brotherton received his Ph.D. in 1954 from Washington State University. After a few years of research at the University of Minnesota (as a DuPont Fellow from 1954–1955) and at Union Oil California (as a research chemist from 1955–1957) he joined U.S. Borax. He retired in 1993 from U.S. Borax as the vice president for research. Brotherton was the co-founder of Boron in the USA along with Narayan Hosmane. His expertise was high-energy boron fuels as part of Project ZIP. He pioneered diboron compounds and was the first to make tetra(hydroxy)diboron, tetra(amino)diboron, and tetra(dimethylamino)diboron, which are now important synthetic reagents.

Stanislav Hermánek (1929–1999)

Stanislav Hermánek, a close friend of Jaromir Plešek, was born in Tábor, Bohemia, on 13 June 1929. He graduated from Prague Technical University in 1952 with a master's degree and later in 1966 he received his Ph.D. degree from Technical University, Pardubice. He was a faculty member at The Institute of Chemical Technology from 1961 to 1974. Later, he joined Charles University as a professor and continued his service there until his death. Hermánek was one of the founders of IMEBORON who was actively involved in the development of more sophisticated multinuclear NMR methods to identify new substances. A key early breakthrough was his recognition that the kinetics of the thermal gas-phase conversion of diborane into higher boranes, and ultimately, decaborane. The value of his contributions was recognized in 1968 by a Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences Award, and most recently by the award of the highly prestigious Heyrovsky Medal of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, a belated tribute to his lifelong achievements in boron science.

Hiroshi Hatanaka (1932–1994)

Hiroshi Hatanaka earned his medical degree from Tokyo University in 1957 and then came to the USA as a Fulbright Scholar, working under William Sweet at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He went back to Japan in 1968 and joined Teikyo University in Tokyo as a professor and neurosurgeon and served there until his death. Hatanaka successfully applied the concept of BNCT in Japan, where he began clinical trials in 1968. Hatanaka used improved boron compounds, such as sodium borocaptate, and applied radiation directly to surgically exposed tumors, rather than attempting to radiate the tumor through the patient's skin and skull. He was internationally recognized for advancing the brain tumor treatment through BNCT.

Ralph Fairchild (1935–1990)

Ralph Fairchild had a diverse educational background. Born in Trenton, New York, in 1935, he earned a master's degree in nuclear engineering in 1959 from St. Lawrence University and a Ph.D. in physics from Adelphi University in 1961. He started his career at Brookhaven Medical Department and continued there until his death in 1990. He was also a research associate professor at the Stony Brook School of Medicine of the State University of New York from 1979 to 1990. Fairchild was internationally recognized as a leading American investigator in BNCT. He was actively involved in the development of a new type of neutron beam at Brookhaven's Medical Research Reactor facility.

Lee J. Todd (1936–2011)

Born in Indiana in 1936, Lee Todd received his Ph.D. under Riley Schaeffer in 1963 from Indiana University. After a brief post-doctoral research at MIT, Todd joined University of Illinois in 1964 as an assistant professor. He moved to Indiana University-Bloomington in 1969 and remained there as a professor of chemistry until his death in 2011. Todd had an extreme passion for boron chemistry with unusual borane and carborane cages incorporating main group elements, forming the corresponding heteroborate anions as the ligands for converting them to metallaphospha- and azacarboranes. His tin chemistry was novel. He was active in using boron compounds to attempt to sequester and precipitate radioactive cesium from nuclear reactor wastes, to immobilize them so that they would be rendered "fixed" for long-term nuclear-waste disposal. Todd was also interested, later in his career, in making compounds for BNCT research.

John H. Morris (1937–2005)

John Morris was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1937. He received his doctoral degree in 1961 from the University of Nottingham. In 1985, he received a D.Sc. from the same university. He worked in different universities, including the University of Newcastle as a senior research associate, Kingston College of Technology as a senior lecturer, and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow as a senior lecturer where he was promoted to reader in 1969 and remained there until his death in 2005. His major research interests were in chemical and electrochemical studies of boranes, metallaboranes, and boron heterocycles. He also became interested in the use of boron compounds in BNCT. To obtain access to neutron sources, he made many trips to Eastern Europe and, in particular, to Russia. He was an excellent preparative chemist with a lifelong fascination with the chemistry of boron.

Bernard F. Spielvogel (1937–2011)

Bernard Spielvogel graduated with a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in 1963. His area of expertise was in synthetic boron chemistry and he was employed in different academic, government, and business positions. He worked in several universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University at Raleigh, Northern Illinois University, and Mt. Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He was the program officer for the U.S. Army Research Office for decades and later became an entrepreneur.He was either founder or co-founder of five high-tech companies. The principal inventor on many patents in the field of boron analogs of amino acids, peptides, and nucleic acids, Spielvogel died on 10 May 2011 in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Ralph Rudolph (1940–1981)

Ralph Rudolph, born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on 14 July 1940 died at age 41. He joined the University of Michigan faculty in the position vacated by his Ph.D. mentor R.W. Parry in 1969. At the University of Michigan, Rudolph continued his phosphine chemistry (which he learned from his Ph.D. work), particularly the chemistry of compounds having phosphorus-phosphorus bonds. However, he quickly proceeded to develop an active program in polyboranes and carboranes. From 1970 to 1977, his efforts not only resulted in further metallacarboranes with "naked metals," but also produced the synthesis of thiaborane in which a sulphur atom was incorporated into a boron cage structure. This compound proved to have a rich and interesting chemistry. Although still in the early stages of his career, he managed to publish over 60 research papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Clinton F. Lane (1944–2007)

A protégé of H.C. Brown, Clinton Lane joined the Aldrich Chemical Company after his graduation from Purdue in 1972. He worked there for more than 30 years during which time he was promoted to executive vice president in 1991. He chose to join academia in 2003 and became a research professor at North Arizona University, where he continued his research in organoborane chemistry until his death at 63.

Morris Srebnik (1947–2011)

Morris Srebnik received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under Professor Raphael Mechoulam in 1984. He joined Professor H.C. Brown's group at Purdue University and studied the applications of organoboranes in organic synthesis until 1986. After doing research at Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, he returned to Brown's group. In 1990, he accepted a position at the University of Toledo, USA. In 1996, he returned to Hebrew University to become a professor at the School of Pharmacy. His research areas of interest included developing organometallic methodologies in synthesis of boron and zirconium compounds and titanium. He had also investigated the potential uses of organoboranes in medicine and in isolating new sunscreen agents from natural sources such as cyanobacteria.

All of these extraordinary scientists made their major contributions in the field of boron chemistry. With their spectacular strides in science and lifelong devotion toward chemistry, they not only showed us the path of success, but also inspired us to achieve it.

Narayan S. Hosmane is a professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois USA.


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