In Memory of Chemistry Professor Emeritus Robert K. Boeckman, Jr.
September 7, 2021
It is with deep sorrow that we share news of the passing of Robert K. Boeckman, Jr., Marshall D. Gates Professor of Chemistry Emeritus. At the age of 77, Bob contributed more than 40 years of service to the University of Rochester.
"Bob was a true giant in the organic synthesis field. His passing is a tremendous loss for not only the University of Rochester and our department, but also for the international chemistry community."
–Professor Todd Krauss, Chair of the Department of Chemistry
Bob was born on August 26, 1944, in Pasadena, California. After early schooling in Dayton, Ohio, Bob received his bachelor of science in chemistry in 1966 from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). He moved on to Brandeis University where he received his Ph.D. under the supervision of James B. Hendrickson and Ernest Grunwald in 1970. He began his academic career at Wayne State University in 1972, where he rose to the rank of Professor in 1979. In 1980, he joined the faculty of the University of Rochester.
For decades, Bob operated one of the largest research groups in the Chemistry Department and coauthored with his students and postdoctoral associates over 150 research papers and book chapters, principally in the area of synthetic organic chemistry. His impressive research accomplishments included specializing in the first total syntheses of well over a dozen major complex natural product targets, and completing about three dozen total syntheses of such targets.
Bob’s research focused on the development of stereocontrolled organic reactions, the development of new methods for asymmetric synthesis, including catalytic asymmetric synthesis; the development of new methodology involving organometallic chemistry, particularly catalysis of organic reactions using chiral organometallic complexes; and applications of conformational theory to the solution of complex stereochemical problems, including the stereoselective creation medium ring-containing substances.
In 2003 Bob became the inaugural holder of the Marshall D. Gates Endowed Chair, a fantastic honor in light of Marshall’s lifetime commitment to the area of total synthesis. Bob’s other academic honors included an A.P. Sloan Fellowship, a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health, and an ACS Cope Scholar Award. He was a fellow of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, was twice awarded an Alexander Von Humboldt Stiftung Research Prize for Senior Scientists, and was an inaugural ACS fellow and a fellow of the AAAS. From 1997 until 2016, he served as an associate editor of the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Bob’s scientific achievements were coupled with a strong commitment to graduate teaching and mentorship. This culminated in Bob winning the William H. Riker University Award for Graduate Teaching in 2009.
Bob also gave much of his time in service, especially to the Chemistry Department and the greater University. From 2003 to 2013, Bob was the chair of the department. Among his more notable accomplishments during this time was the establishment of the biological and materials interdisciplinary clusters, whereby for the first time faculty outside the core chemistry faculty were integrated into the activities of the Chemistry Department. Some of Bob’s most impactful efforts as chair were achieved through his unique success in raising endowed funds for Chemistry. In particular, by working with the University’s advancement office, Bob was integral in the establishing two endowed professorships: the Andrew Kende Chair of Organic Chemistry honoring our late colleague, and the Richard Eisenberg Chair of Inorganic Chemistry.
Bob is survived by his wife of over 45 years, Mary Delton.
We will miss Bob and his presence in Hutchison Hall greatly.
- Boeckman Research Symposium Photos (2019)
- Boeckman Honored as 50-Year Member at ACS Awards and Recognition Dinner (2017)