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In Memoriam: Nobel Laureate and UB Professor Herbert Hauptman

Herbert A. Hauptman, PhD

Herbert A. Hauptman, PhD

Published October 27, 2011

Herbert A. Hauptman, PhD, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, died Oct. 23. He was 94.

A mathematician and crystallographer, Hauptman was president of Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) and UB professor emeritus of structural biology.

He also served as UB Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Developed Technique Key to Drug Discovery

“The University at Buffalo community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Hauptman, one of the most eminent and influential faculty members in UB’s long history.”
Satish K. Tripathi, UB President

In the 1950s Hauptman solved a problem that had daunted scientists for decades: how to directly determine molecular structures through the methodology of X-ray crystallography.

The method he developed was largely ignored until the 1960s and ’70s, when crystallographers began using it successfully to study proteins.

In 1985 Hauptman won the Nobel Prize for this work, sharing the award with collaborator Jerome Karle, a physical chemist and college classmate.

Their groundbreaking algorithms proved integral to the discovery of drugs for a variety of diseases.

“I don’t think there’s a single pharmaceutical that’s been developed in the last 30 years that hasn’t been studied using derivations of what Dr. Hauptman and his colleagues won the Nobel Prize for,” Eaton Lattman, chief executive of the HWI, told The Associated Press.

Solved Molecular Mystery with X-ray Crystallography

A New York City native, Hauptman earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from City College in 1937 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1939.

Shortly thereafter he entered the Navy and served in the Southwest Pacific during World War II. His wartime experience eventually led him to protest American involvement in other military actions, including the Vietnam War.

In 1947, Hauptman began working at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. During that time, he earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Maryland.

At the NRL, Hauptman became fascinated with the problem of how to deduce the three-dimensional structure of molecules using X-ray crystallography.

In 1953, he co-published “Solution of the Phase Problem I: The Centrosymmetric Crystal,” outlining the methods that would make him the first non-chemist to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Leader in Buffalo’s Biomedical Research Community

Unwilling to shift the focus of his naval research to laser-guided missiles, Hauptman left the NRL in 1970 and joined the crystallographic group at the Medical Foundation of Buffalo (MFB).

In 1972, he became research director of the nonprofit biomedical research institute and, later, its president.

In 1994, the MFB was renamed the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in honor of Hauptman and philanthropist Helen Woodward-Rivas.

Hauptman continued to work at HWI into his 90s, pursuing new research and serving as a mentor to younger scientists.

Prolific Author, National Academy of Sciences Member

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Hauptman published 170 papers and authored three books and more than 40 book chapters.

He received honorary degrees from universities around the world, including one from the State University of New York during UB’s 2009 commencement.

As a hobby, Hauptman enjoyed making stained-glass artwork inspired by complex, mathematically defined geometrical shapes. HWI holds a permanent collection of these works.

Hauptman is survived by his wife, the former Edith Citrynell; daughters Barbara Hauptman and Carol Fullerton, PhD; a brother, Robert, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother Manuel in 2009.

Deeply Devoted to UB’s Academic Community

“The University at Buffalo community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Hauptman, one of the most eminent and influential faculty members in UB’s long history,” said President Satish K. Tripathi.

“He embodied everything we mean when we speak of faculty excellence—certainly by virtue of his international stature as a Nobel laureate and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, but on an even more profound level, by virtue of his deep and abiding devotion to our academic community over the course of a long and distinguished career.”