Berlin chemist wins U.S. award for reaction studies

April 22, 2001

Chemist Helmut Schwarz of Berlin has been honored by the world's largest scientific society for his fundamental insights into the step-by-step processes by which molecules react with each other. He received the 2001 Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry from the American Chemical Society at its 221st national meeting April 3 in San Diego.

"For a curiosity-driven person like myself, doing research is the most appropriate act of feeling well," said Schwarz, who is professor of chemistry at the Technical University of Berlin's Institute for Organic Chemistry. "One is nearly always discovering new 'continents.'"

He uses a mass spectrometer to identify molecules by their electrical charge and mass. The uses are myriad: studying effects of pollution, drug-testing Olympic athletes, analyzing forensic evidence, determining ages of rocks.

Schwarz focuses on fundamental chemical reactions that may underlie such applications. Virtually all reactions take place in a series of steps, progressing via molecules called intermediates -- hybrids of sorts between reactants and products.

The Schwarz research team has developed innovative ways to study these highly transient intermediates, especially those lacking an electrical charge, such as radicals. He has also developed methods to follow and understand the reactions of metal-organic compounds. For example, those studies have helped reveal how an enzyme in the body called cytochrome P-450 helps metabolize drugs and detoxify foreign compounds such as pollutants.

"He is one of the most energetic, intelligent and creative chemists of his generation," wrote a colleague in nominating him for the award.

A native of Berlin, Schwarz recalled that chemistry first caught his attention in high school when a teacher commented that "chemistry, in essence, is the only science that tries to cope with the permanent change of matter." Eight years later, in 1972, Schwarz received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University of Berlin.
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The ACS Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry is sponsored by Bruker-Daltonics Inc.

American Chemical Society

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