A 'Remarkable Collection of Faculty Talent' in Chemistry Is Honored

Photograph: Bruce Berne.
Photograph: Thomas J. Katz.
Photograph: Koji Nakanishi.

Three Columbia chemists--Bruce Berne, Thomas J. Katz and Koji Nakanishi--will receive awards this year from the American Chemical Society for a range of contributions to the discipline.

Katz has been named one of 10 Arthur C. Cope Scholars. Of the other Cope winners, one graduated from Columbia College, three received their chemistry Ph.D.'s from Columbia and another was a postdoctoral fellow in the chemistry department.

"The remarkable collection of faculty talent in this field at Columbia attracts the very best students and postdoctoral fellows," said George Flynn, Higgins Professor of Chemistry and chairman of the department. "Inevitably, these students go on themselves to do great work and hence become candidates for the Arthur C. Cope Scholar awards."

Berne, professor of chemistry, is to receive the ACS Award in Theoretical Chemistry for his work in the dynamics and structure of liquids. The award and a $5,000 prize will be conferred at the society's spring national meeting April 4 in Anaheim, Calif.

"For 25 years, he's been at the top" in the field of theoretical chemistry and in computer simulations of chemical events, said a Columbia colleague, Philip Pechukas, professor of chemistry.

Berne was a pioneer in the development of molecular dynamics, the method used to simulate many-body systems on computers. He was the first to apply molecular dynamics to simulate molecules in condensed states of matter.

He has also made major contributions to the theory of chemical reaction rates and to the study of dynamic processes in clusters, liquids and liquid crystals. He invented major new Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics techniques used in computer simulations.

The Columbia chemist has also made important contributions to the field of dynamic laser light scattering, and, with Robert Pecora of Stanford, wrote a highly regarded book on the subject.

The analysis of how laser light scatters from chemical and biological systems gives researchers information about how fast particles diffuse from one part of a system to another.

Berne earned the B.S. degree in chemistry from Brooklyn College in 1961 and the Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Chicago in 1964. Previous awards include an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1968-70), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1972-73), three National Science Foundation Creativity Awards (1984-86, 1990-92, 1995-97) and an Alexander von Humboldt Senior U.S. Scientist Award (1992). He has published three books and more than 190 research papers in refereed journals.

Katz, professor of chemistry, will receive the Cope Scholar Award for his work in organic chemistry and an unrestricted $25,000 research grant. Recipients deliver an address at an annual Arthur C. Cope Symposium to be held at the society's fall meeting in Chicago.

Katz has constructed significant new organic molecules, including octagonal and nonagonal analogs of benzene, a hexagonal molecule with six atoms of carbon and six of hydrogen; prismane, a relative of benzene that is distorted into a triangular prism, a structure shaped like a pup tent; molecules that "sandwich" two metal atoms between two layers of hydrocarbons, and helical sandwiches, including polymers whose shapes resemble DNA.

He has also pioneered the use of metals as catalysts to bring about syntheses of complex organic structures and has devised methods to show how the metals carry out their work.

Katz earned the B.A. in chemistry, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Wisconsin in 1956, and the M.A. and Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Harvard in 1957 and 1959. He has been awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1962-66) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967-68) and was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993). He has published more than 100 research papers in refereed journals.

Nakanishi, Centennial Professor of Chemistry, will receive the society's International Award in Agrochemicals, a $3,000 prize, at the society's fall national meeting for his work in natural products, especially relating to pest control.

Nakanishi has determined the structure of more than 160 chemical compounds involved in the lives of plants and animals and has specialized in isolating substances that occur naturally, but in minute quantities.

Bioactive compounds produced by land and sea animals, plants, insects and microorganisms for a variety of purposes have been subjects of his research.

The Columbia natural products chemist was cited for his work in insect antifeedants, which prevent insects from eating crops; insect molting hormones, which can disrupt growth cycles; antibiotics from microorganisms present in insect eggs; and ecdysteroid biosynthesis inhibitor, which is involved in regulating the molt cycle of crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans.

Nakanishi also discovered that certain plants produce the same substances that act as hormones in insects to regulate molting. More than 80 plants, among them the yew tree and certain ferns, have subsequently been found to produce such compounds.

The finding has had a profound impact on the study of insect physiology, since insect molt hormones could be obtained only in tiny quantities from insects themselves.

Most recently, Nakanishi has synthesized chemicals similar to the venom of the Egyptian solitary digger wasp, which blocks human neurotransmitters and may have applications to research in learning and memory, as well as in development of drugs to prevent damage to the brain when it is deprived of oxygen.

He has published nearly 600 research papers, earned the B.Sc. and Ph.D. from Nagoya University and done graduate research at Harvard.

He taught at Nagoya University, Tokyo Kyoiku University and Tohoku University before joining the Columbia faculty in 1969. He was named Centennial Professor in 1980.

The winners of the Cope Scholar Award who have studied at Columbia are Rick L. Danheiser, B.A. 1972, professor of chemistry at MIT; Michael E. Jung, Ph.D. 1973, professor of chemistry at UCLA; Nelson J. Leonard, Ph.D. 1942, faculty associate at Caltech and R.C. Fuson Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Alanna Schepartz, Ph.D. 1987, Milton Harris '29 Ph.D. associate professor of chemistry at Yale, and Barry B. Snider, postdoctoral research 1973-75, professor and chairman of the chemistry department at Brandeis University.

Due to severe space limitations, an abridged version of this article appeared in last week's Record.

Columbia University Record -- February 10, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 16