Negishi turns 80


The eighth annual Negishi-Brown Lectures – a summer gathering of international chemistry greats – had a unique, celebratory tone to go with the cutting-edge science that was discussed July 12 to 14.

Professor Ei-ichi Negishi, Nobel laureate and Purdue Chemistry legend, turned 80 on July 14. Parties at the home of Dr. Jeff Roberts, the Frederic L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science and fellow professor of chemistry, and the Lafayette Country Club highlighted the evenings while Wetherill Laboratory was home to the promotion of the latest works by 15 leading chemists – including Negishi himself. Overall, six countries were represented by the official presenters, but dozens of researchers from all over the globe came to wish Negishi a happy birthday and to learn of his newest research.

Many in attendance were former graduate students of Negishi’s. Several colleagues from his native Japan were on-hand as well. Dr. Tamotsu Takahashi from the Catalysis Research Center at Hokkaido University helped introduce Negishi before his lecture after leading the room in a “Happy Birthday” sing-along.  

A research poster contest helped bring in students from Ball State University and Michigan State University, joining numerous Purdue students.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to meet with him, be in the lectures and present a poster,” said Behnaz Ghaffari, a chemistry graduate student from Michigan State University. “I’m working in the organometallic field, and he’s one of the famous people in this field. A lot of people are using his chemistry, especially in industry. I was really pleased to see him and talk to him.”

Happy birthday, Professor Negishi!

Nobel Laureate and Chemistry legend Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi gets ready to blow out the candles on his 80th birthday cake.

Negishi said he was delighted to see young scientists at the lectures and he was thrilled to see the progress his former students have made in their careers, whether in academia or industry.

“This is one of the best, in my opinion,” said Negishi during a break in the lectures inside Wetherill, Room 200. “Former young people from my group and (fellow Nobel laureate) professor (Herbert) Brown’s group, they have had more time. They have become more independent. They’re doing better science, better chemistry. That is the most pleasing aspect of this Negishi-Brown Lectures.”

For many in attendance, it was a trip in the time machine. Thanks to Leighty Commons, Wetherill has a new look but beyond that, much hasn’t changed. Many memories were triggered. Negishi’s former pupils spoke of intense, rigorous work under the 2010 Nobel-winner, but the know-how and self-disciple helped them as they established careers beyond Purdue.

“He could recognize talent and he tried to extract that talent from that particular student or post-doc,” said Swathi Mohan, organic chemistry lecturer at The Ohio State University – Lima and Negishi’s last graduate student. “At that time, I thought I couldn’t handle it, but that rigorous training has helped me now as I am teaching in university and I’m trying to set up my own undergraduate research lab.”

Now an octogenarian, Negishi revealed the next stage of his research in his talk “Magical Power of d-Block Transition Metals – Past, Present and Future.” He wants to build on his transition metal and palladium catalyzed cross coupling work, which helped gain him the Nobel Prize.

“If we can roll things and keep climbing up the hill, things get better and better and more enjoyable, and that’s how I feel at the tender age of 80,” Negishi laughed.

In addition to its use in the development of the painkiller naproxen and the cancer treatment taxol, it is estimated that "Negishi coupling" and its variants is used in more than one-quarter of all chemical reactions in the pharmaceutical industry. The technique also has been used in fluorescent marking essential for DNA sequencing and in the creation of materials for thin LED displays.

“Although a birthday marks the passing of one year in a life, Dr. Negishi’s impact on humanity will be everlasting,” said Jeffrey Roberts, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science. “It is a joy to celebrate the wonderful person he is and the astounding achievements of his career. He continues to pursue lofty research goals and spurs the innovations of others through the Negishi-Brown Institute. It is impossible to overstate the impact he has had on generations of students, faculty and staff at Purdue.”

Negishi currently serves as the inaugural director of Purdue's Negishi-Brown Institute, which supports basic research in catalytic organometallic chemistry through graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, regular workshops and symposia, and relationships with industrial partners.

Negishi was born July 14, 1935 and grew up in Japan. He received a bachelor's degree in organic chemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1958 and moved to the United States in 1960 to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania as a Fulbright-Smith-Mundt scholar, earning a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1963.

Negishi came to Purdue in 1966 as a postdoctoral researcher under Herbert C. Brown, who won the Nobel Prize in 1979. Negishi went to Syracuse University in 1972, where he was an assistant professor and then an associate professor before returning to Purdue in 1979.

He was appointed the H.C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in 1999 and has won various awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the A.R. Day Award, a 1996 Chemical Society of Japan Award, the 1998 American Chemical Society Organometallic Chemistry Award, a 1998 Humboldt Senior Researcher Award and the 2010 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry. He was named a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. He also was given the 2010 Order of Culture, Japan's highest distinction, and named as a Person of Cultural Merit.

Negishi has authored more than 400 publications including two books, one of which is the Handbook of Organopalladium Chemistry for Organic Synthesis. Collectively, these publications have been cited more than 20,000 times.

Negishi with students

Professor Ei-Ichi Negishi stands with chemistry students during the Negishi-Brown Lectures.

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