Photo of Frank H. Westheimer

Frank H. Westheimer

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his series of extraordinary, original and penetrating investigations of the mechanisms of organic and enzymic reactions, which have played an unequaled role in the advancement of our knowledge of the ways in which chemical and biochemical processes proceed.rn

Frank H. Westheimer’s major contributions to biochemistry includes framing the understanding of how the body processes alcohol, which led to a much closer look at enzymes reaction, and explaining how organic molecules are assembled from atoms.

Westheimer is a leading figure in the field of organic chemistry, but was also proficient in mathematics, physical-organic chemistry, and during World War II he worked as a supervisor at the National Explosives Research Laboratory.

“Whether I would have made a larger contribution to chemistry if I had done fewer things and exploited them better, well, no one will ever know,” he said in 1988, receiving the Priestly Medal from the American Chemical Society.

Westheimer was known as a personality to his students. He taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard.

“Why spend a day in the library when you can learn the same thing by working in the laboratory for a month?” he would tell research assistants.

By Christine Ayala