Heck, Richard Fred, 1931–2015, American chemist, b. Springfield, Mass., Ph.D. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1954. Heck was a researcher at the Hercules Corporation in Wilmington, Del., from 1957 to 1971, when he joined the faculty at the Univ. of Delaware. He retired in 1989. In 2010, Heck won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Japanese chemists Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for their research during the 1960s and 70s on palladium-catalyzed coupling reactions in organic synthesis. Heck's work, which improved on that of Japanese chemist Tsutomu Mizoroki, led to the discovery of the Heck, or Mizoroki-Heck, reaction, in which a palladium catalyst creates bonds between two carbon atom, facilitating the creation of complex organic molecules. Heck published his initial work in 1968 and refinements in the 1970s. The work of the three prize winners, carried out independently, laid the foundation for the synthesis of chemicals for applications in such diverse areas as pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, and advanced technological materials. Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling also led to breakthroughs in DNA sequencing. Heck's work was later adapted to make the cancer drug Taxol, steroids, and morphine among other compounds.
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