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Chemistry alumnus earns prestigious organic chemistry award named for Herbert C. Brown


Writer(s): Steve Scherer


The American Chemical Society (ACS) has announced that William A. Nugent will be the 2024 recipient of the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods.

Nugent earned a B.S. with honors in chemistry at Purdue in 1969. After a brief stint as a high school chemistry and physics teacher in Dayton, Ohio, he moved to Bloomington where he earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Indiana University in 1976.

“As a process chemist in the pharmaceutical industry, Bill developed synthetic routes to many drug candidates at DuPont Pharma, at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and most recently at Vertex Pharmaceutical,” recalled the late Victor Snieckus, professor emeritus at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.

Dr. Nugent is the author of more than 100 research publications and many patents during his nearly 40 years in the fields of inorganic and organometallic chemistry, organic synthetic methods, and asymmetric catalysis.

He is co-author of the inorganic chemistry textbook Metal-Ligand Multiple Bonds that is still widely cited nearly 30 years after its publication.

"I saw my role in industry as a ‘toolmaker.’ I would invent new reactions to solve particular challenges that emerged, especially during the development of new drugs. That can be a difficult thing to do, given the short timelines in the pharmaceutical industry. My success probably reflects both a strong knowledge of organic reaction mechanisms dating to my Purdue days, and a fair amount of good luck. A particularly gratifying piece of research was developing the manufacturing route for Kalydeco, the first cystic fibrosis drug to address the underlying cause of the illness." - Bill Nugent

When Dr. Nugent began his studies at Purdue in 1965, Herbert C. Brown was about a dozen years away from earning his Nobel Prize, and Nugent remembers meeting the man he calls a hero. 

“Actually, I got to know Herb because of another memorable faculty member, Professor R. E. Davis, who ran the freshman honors program. He set up a program where every Tuesday night our small group went to a different faculty member’s home. A blackboard was brought in and the professor would give a chalk talk about their research. It was both revelatory and extremely inspirational,” recalled Nugent. 

It was through those chalk talks that Nugent became acquainted with Professor Joseph Wolinsky, with whom he would later do undergraduate research.

“The project that Joe assigned me – the alpha-alkylation of indoles – required the invention of a brand-new reaction to solve a real-world problem. That, in turn, required deep mechanistic understanding. It was a model that I internalized and that served me well throughout my career in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries,” Nugent remembered.

“The Purdue faculty made chemistry fascinating, and the fascination has never left me,” he added.

A resident of Noblesville, Indiana, Dr. Nugent was awarded the Department of Chemistry’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 2008.

Although he retired from industry in 2014, Dr. Nugent continues to publish scientific works as a visiting scholar at the Ohio State University.  In 2022, he coauthored a volume on titanium(III) chemistry with T. V. RajanBabu for the Organic Reactions series.

He has served on ACS editorial boards, executive committees, and chaired its Division of Organic Chemistry in 2002.

The ACS is one of the world’s largest scientific organizations with more than 173,000 individuals in 140 countries.

The award will be presented to him in March at the ACS 2024 Spring Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans.

Past recipients of the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods include:

  • 1998 - Herbert C. Brown (1979 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
  • 2011 - Akira Suzuki (2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and former H.C. Brown postdoc)
  • 2015 - Gary A. Molander (Professor of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania and former H.C. Brown graduate student and postdoc)

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