Prof. Kazuo Nakamoto

Professor Kazuo Nakamoto (1922-2011)


2014 Nakamoto Lecture

The Department of Chemistry welcomed Prof. David A. Tirrell, Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Beckman Institute, at the California Institute of Technology as this year's Nakamoto lecturer. Dr. Tirrell presented "Reinterpreting the Genetic Code: Non-Canonical Amino Acids as Probes of Protein Synthesis in Complex Biological Systems" on Friday, April 4, 2014.

Prof. Thomas Meyer-North Carolina Chapel HillDavid was educated at MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he earned his Ph.D. for research done under the supervision of Otto Vogl. After a brief stay with Takeo Saegusa at Kyoto University, Tirrell accepted an assistant professorship in the Department of Chemistry at Carnegie-Mellon University in the fall of 1978. Tirrell returned to Amherst in 1984 and served as Director of the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts before moving to Caltech in 1998. He served as chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech from 1999 until 2009. Tirrell's research interests lie in macromolecular chemistry and in the use of non-canonical amino acids to engineer and probe protein behavior. His contributions to these fields have been recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Kazuo Nakamoto was born in Kobe, Japan. He received his B.S. and D.Sc. from Osaka University and remained at Osaka as a member of the faculty for an additional four years, except for the two years which he spent at Iowa State University working in the laboratory of Robert E. Rundle as a Fulbright Scholar. In 1958 he joined the faculty at Clark University, moving to Illinois Institute of Technology in 1961 and in 1969 he became the first Wehr Professor of Chemistry at Marquette University.

Professor Nakamoto directed the research of more than 85 graduate students and postdoctoral associates and published more than 210 papers and 15 review articles. He was a pioneer in the use of metal isotopes to elucidate the involvement of metals in low frequency vibrations in metallic complexes, a discovery that helped fuel the rapid growth in the developing field of bioinorganic chemistry. He then turned his attention to biological problems and began a vigorous research program dealing with heme-related compounds. He was also amongst the first to use matrix isolation techniques to prepare and characterize unstable species, including the biologically relevant ferryl heme complexes, an important intermediate in many oxidative heme enzymes. His interest also included DNA and the process of intercalation. Using oligonucleotides synthesized to include specific sequences, he established criteria that can be used to deduce the site specificity of these compounds. He was able to differentiate between exterior (groove) binding and interior (intercalation) binding through careful vibrational analysis.

In keeping with his life-long interest in communicating the excitement of science, he authored several influential texts in the field of spectroscopy, including his very famous 2-volume work on Infrared and Raman Spectra of Inorganic and Coordination Compounds, the sixth edition of which was issued in 2009, and in 2008 coauthored a new book entitled Drug-DNA Interactions: Structures and Spectra. Remarkably, his passion for science and dedication to accomplishment were clearly manifested, even up to the final weeks of his life, as he was continually pondering new points to include in planned future editions of his books. In spite of his great scientific success, he remained a genuinely modest man who will long be missed by the many of us who knew and admired him.

Previous Nakamoto Lecturers


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