Visiting the campus more than five decades after he obtained his bachelor’s and doctorate degree at UCLA, Richard Heck only recognized Dickson Plaza and William G. Young Hall.
Young Hall was finished partway through Heck’s studies at UCLA. Before that, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner spent much of his time in Haines Hall, which was then the chemistry building.
Those years spent in chemistry labs at UCLA would pave the way to an influential career, and on Saturday, Heck’s alma mater honored him for his work.
He received the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, an annual award given by the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for achievements in chemistry.
The award is named after Glenn T. Seaborg, another UCLA alumnus, who won the Nobel Prize with another scientist at the age of 39.
The 106th element of the periodic table, Seaborgium, is named after him.
Heck and Seaborg are two of only six UCLA alumni who have won the Nobel Prize, three of which are from the chemistry and biochemistry department.
“(At UCLA, we accept) outstanding scientists who get great training … and go out to make fantastic discoveries and change the world,” said Albert Courey, chair of the chemistry and biochemistry department.
After leaving UCLA, Heck went to work for Hercules Inc., a chemical and munitions manufacturing company.
In the 1960s, he discovered what is known as the Heck reaction.
The discovery, which involves using palladium to create carbon bonds, contributed to Heck receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010.
He shared the award with two other chemists who built on his initial breakthrough.
“It took that much time and historical perspective for people to realize how important (the discovery) was,” Courey said. “(It is now) used every day in thousands of labs.”
The Heck reaction has been integral in paving the way for cancer drugs and for sequencing the human genome, Courey said.
Following his discovery, Heck went on to an 18-year career of research and teaching at the University of Delaware.
Joseph Rudnick, dean of physical sciences, presented Heck with the Seaborg award at the event on Saturday.
He said in a speech that it was a testament to the significance of Heck’s work that seven consecutive articles about his work were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a prestigious chemical journal.
The event also recognized younger researchers in the chemistry and biochemistry department.
Undergraduate and graduate students presented research, and some later received awards that acknowledged achievement.
Members of Alpha Chi Sigma, a fraternity for chemistry students that Heck was a member of during his undergraduate years at UCLA, were also present at the event on Saturday.
Heck said he was a member more for social events rather than chemistry.
“But most of my time was spent in the lab,” Heck said with a smile.
Heck has been retired for 22 years. Since retiring, Heck has returned to gardening, a hobby that sparked his original interest in chemistry.
He and his wife of 32 years have lived in the Philippines for seven years.
He was the first resident of the Philippines to win a Nobel Prize, said his wife, Socorro Heck.