From: Merlin (chem$##$bellatlantic.net)
Date: Thu Mar 19 1998 - 13:06:16 EST
Here is the clipping from the NY Times Obituaries section which ran
today, 3/19/98. The URL is
March 19, 1998
Derek Barton, 79, Nobel-Winning Chemist
By FORD BURKHART
Dr. Derek H.R. Barton, who won the Nobel Prize in
Chemistry for adding a
third dimension to chemical analysis, which has been
central to research on
new drugs and chemicals for decades, died March 16
at his home in College
Station, Texas. He was 79.
He had suffered a heart attack, said a spokesman for Texas
A&M University, where
he was a professor of chemistry.
Barton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 but, by
his choice, was known
as Sir Derek only in England. He shared the Nobel Prize in
1969 with a Norwegian
chemist, Dr. Odd Hassel of the University of Oslo.
By adding a dimension to the analysis of compounds, Barton
opened an area of
chemistry called conformational analysis and altered the
understanding of every
organic molecule, said a colleague and former student, Dr.
"This has led to a deeper understanding of many basic
mechanisms, such as, for
example, the formation of cholesterol in the human body,
and the way all the
molecules in life processes, including DNA, interact with
each other," Scott said.
Barton provided a theoretical framework that has become
part of computer programs
used to design a drug, for example one that can attack a
certain kind of bacterium.
"Embedded in every one of those graphics are Dr. Barton's
principles," Scott said.
"He showed us what happens when the new drug hits the
In chemistry, a large number of arrangements of atoms in a
molecule are possible,
but only a few of them work to give a compound its normal
look and behavior. Dr.
Barton's three-dimensional visualization logic explains
conformation of interactions
this way: A right-handed glove will not fit on any left
hand, but a left-handed glove
of a different size will still "work" or conform to
someone's left hand, even if it is a
bit large or small.
Although a theoretical concept of three-dimensional
molecules had existed before
Barton's work, chemical analysis before his time ignored
that approach and regarded
the molecules that he studied in 1949 and 1950 as if they
existed in a
two-dimensional state in nature.
Barton and Hassel concluded that the way organic compounds
interacted was linked
to the way they took on certain geometric configurations,
mainly in shapes that look
roughly like a boat or like a chair when they are
diagrammed. They might bend, twist
or fold over one another, depending on the conditions.
When heat is applied to, say, a kind of sugar, its
molecular arrangements can change
from the boat pattern to the chair configuration.
When a drug hits its target in the human body, the same
thing happens. A penicillin
molecule hitting the cell wall of a bacterium changes its
molecular arrangement as it
splits open the bacterium and kills it.
"All governed by Dr. Barton's principles," Scott said.
Barton was born in Gravesend, Kent, in England, and
received his bachelor of
science degree in 1940 from the Imperial College of
Science and Technology, part of
the University of London. He received a doctorate in 1942
in organic chemistry and a
D.Sc. degree in 1949, both from the Imperial College.
During a year at Harvard, he wrote the work that led to
his Nobel Prize as a modest
four-page paper published in 1950.
It extended the work of Hassell, who was working
independently of Barton in
Norway in the 1950s, and focused on large molecules, ones
that have complicated
ring systems and have important functions in life systems.
explained the stability of certain molecular arrangements.
His ideas about conformational chemistry soon became a
standard part of the basic
chemistry curriculum taught to undergraduates around the
world and played a
prominent role in chemical research for decades.
In 1953, Barton went to work at Birkbeck College in
London, then moved to
Glasgow University in 1955, and to Imperial College in
1957, where he was
chairman of the chemistry department until 1978. Then, he
became director of the
Institute for the Chemistry of Natural Substances at
Gif-sur-Yvette, France. In 1986,
he joined A&M.
Barton and his first wife, Jeanne, were divorced. His
second wife, Christiane, died
Barton is survived by his third wife, Judy Cobb Barton; a
son, William, who lives in
England, and three grandchildren.
George D. 'Merlin' McCallion
Post Office Box 143
Bala-Cynwyd, PA 19004-0143
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