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Dr. Hauptman is seated next to Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden during the Nobel celebration dinner in December, 1985 in Stockholm.
Photo to left: His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden (right) presents the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman
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Herbert A. Hauptman, PhD
Dr. Herbert Aaron Hauptman, an internationally renowned mathematician, Nobel Laureate and President of HWI for many years, was born in New York City in 1917. He was the oldest of the three sons of Israel Hauptman, a printer, and Leah (Rosenfeld) Hauptman, a sales clerk in a department store. At an early age, he developed a passionate interest in science and math, and he credited his parents for encouraging him to pursue these interests.
After graduating from Townsend Harris High School, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from the City College of New York (1937), a master’s degree from Columbia University (1939) and a PhD from the University of Maryland (1955). All of his degrees were in mathematics.
In 1947, after serving in the South Pacific during World War II, Hauptman took a position at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. He decided to focus his research on the so-called “phase problem” of X-ray crystallography, a puzzle that had intrigued and defied other scientists for over 40 years.
Crystallography is a science that strives to determine the three-dimensional structures of molecules. Since 1912, chemists had known that a beam of X-rays directed towards a crystal is scattered when it strikes atoms, and the scattered radiation forms a pattern that can be recorded on film. Although the positions of the atoms in the crystal determine the nature of this so-called diffraction pattern, the problem for chemists was that they could not readily work backwards from the diffraction data to the atomic arrangement.
Hauptman used probability theory to develop mathematical techniques, called “direct methods”, to interpret diffraction patterns. He devised equations to translate the information in these patterns into a structural map that revealed the locations of individual atoms. He co-published these results in 1953 in a book entitled, Solution of the Phase Problem I: The Centrosymmetric Crystal. However, for many years other scientists were skeptical of this work, and it was largely ignored. It was finally accepted in the 1970’s and received the recognition it deserved with the award of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985.
In 1970, Hauptman joined the crystallographic group of the Medical Foundation of Buffalo (MFB). In 1972, he became MFB’s Research Director and later, its President. In 1994, MFB was renamed the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) to honor him as well as Helen Woodward-Rivas, the philanthropist who provided the seed funds for the institute.
The direct methods that had earned him a Nobel Prize begin to break down when the size of a structure exceeds 100 atoms, and Hauptman was determined to extend their range. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, he collaborated with his Buffalo colleagues to develop improvements to direct methods that permitted them to be applied successfully to molecules containing as many as 1000 atoms.
A member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Hauptman received many honorary degrees from colleges and universities as far away as Poland and Israel. Locally, he was named “Man of the Year”, “Most Influential Person in Western New York”, and a “Citizen of Distinction” among other honors. Firmly believing that “There is no such thing as working too hard or too long”, he continued to work daily at HWI into his nineties.By now, the structures of thousands of molecules have been solved by crystallographers using Hauptman's direct methods, and many more are added to the list each year. As a result of the information obtained from these studies, new drugs have been designed
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