Obituary: Lipkin, former chemistry chair; 91

David Lipkin, Ph.D., the Eliot Professor Emeritus of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences, died Wednesday, March 31, 2004, in San Jose, Calif., of complications from a fall. He was 91.

David Lipkin
David Lipkin

Lipkin served as chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1964-1970. He retired in 1981.

Born Jan. 30, 1913, he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1934 and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1939.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lipkin, Joseph Kennedy, Arthur Wahl and Samuel Weissman were among the first to arrive at Los Alamos, N.M., and worked closely on the Manhattan Project. They were joined a few months later by Lindsay Helmholz.

In October 1945, Kennedy was successfully recruited from Los Alamos to chair and build the chemistry department at Washington University. By early December, Lipkin, Helmholz, Weissman, Wahl and Herbert Potratz, another chemist, were all invited to join the faculty for the spring 1946 semester.

Lipkin made a very important contribution to the atomic bomb that fell on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. The second bomb to fall on Japan was a plutonium bomb made of a very active metal. Lipkin made a nickel-coated protective skin on the bomb to make sure that it didn’t corrode before reaching the Pacific from the United States.

He worked on nucleic acids and on synthetic applications of aromatic hydrocarbon free radical anions.

He also demonstrated new ways in which rings of carbon atoms can be added to the hydrocarbon naphthalene. Naphthalene is a coal tar derivative used extensively in the manufacturing of dyes, moth balls and explosives. The goal of this research was to synthesize steroids of interest to biochemists and biologists.

Lipkin developed new compounds and new ways of making known compounds, which opened doors not only in basic genetic research, but also in the fields of pharmacology and clinical medicine.

He was the first to synthesize cyclic AMP, a very important compound in biochemistry. His synthesis played a vital role in subsequent research by other scientists into the function of AMP in biology.

Lipkin is survived by his wife, Silvia, and sons, Jeffrey and Edward.

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