Strain Catalysis - Westheimer and Beyond

Thursday, 25 April 2013 - 5:00pm - 6:00pm
Informatics & Communications Technology Complex IT 90

Westheimer Lecture Series

Frank H. Westheimer (1912 - 2007) was Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at Harvard University. After his Harvard Ph.D., he trained in Columbia with Louis P Hammett, the father of physical organic chemistry, and also studied physics and electrostatics plus statistical mechanics. Those skills equipped him in Chicago to study isotopes and their uses in organic chemistry and led him into a study of enzyme mechanisms.

A renewed interest in organophosphorus compounds and their reaction mechanisms led into problems related to phosphate processes in biochemistry, especially for adenosine triphosphate and ribonuclease. These called for new experimental techniques and their analysis demanded dramatically new concepts in reactivity, especially related to dynamic stereochemistry.

As an Emeritus Harvard Professor, he became committed to understanding the fundamental role of phosphorus in life and attempted to rationalize it in terms of the breadth of his knowledge of phosphates.  Frank Westheimer is regarded as the Father of Mechanistic Biological Chemistry by many of his successors and followers.

Strain Catalysis - Westheimer and Beyond

Westheimer was deeply committed to the concept of strain in the reactions of phosphate di- and tri-esters in relation to ribonuclease. I shall briefly outline his work on enzyme mechanisms and relate that to present-day studies to show the strength and limits of his work. I shall then survey current opinions on the role of strain in enzyme catalysis and bring that to focus on work in Sheffield on a unique DNA repair enzyme, Uracil DNA Glycohydrolase, which I believe to be a prominent example of Strain Catalysis.


Lynn Gerrard
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology