Herbert Aaron Hauptman: Revolutionizing Crystallography and Unraveling Molecular Structures

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Herbert A Hauptman (14 February 1917 – 23 October 2011) was an American mathematician. He won the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Life and Career

Herbert Aaron Hauptman was born on 14 February 1917, in New York. He completed his schooling at Townsend Harris High School and grew interested in mathematics and science. In 1937, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science from City College of New York.

In 1939, he got his M.A. in Mathematics from Columbia University. After World War II, he joined the University of Maryland at College Park for his Ph.D. In 1955, he received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Maryland. He then worked with Jerome Karle at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. where they began collaborating on the study of crystal structures. He became a biophysics professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1970, and then became president and research director of the Medical Foundation of Buffalo.

In 1972, he became research director of the Medical Foundation of Buffalo, and in 1988 he became president, which he held until his death. In the 1980s, he started studying larger molecules and continued to study crystallography issues. He was known to have written more than 170 publications in the form of papers, books, journals, and articles. Herbert A Hauptman died on 23 October 2011, in Buffalo, New York.

Major Work

Hauptman and Karle devised mathematical equations to extract phase information from the intensity of spots from the diffraction of X-rays deflected off crystals. Based on an analysis of the spot intensity, their equations helped pinpoint where atoms were located within crystal molecules. After their method was published in 1949, it got neglected for a while, but eventually, crystallographers used it to figure out how hormones, vitamins, and antibiotics work in three dimensions.

Until Hauptman and Karle developed their method, calculating the structure of a simple biological molecule took about two years, but by the 1980s, using powerful computers, it could be done in about two days.

Award and Legacy

In 1985, Herbert A Hauptman and Jerom Karle were joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He won the Belden Prize in Mathematics from the City College of New York in 1935.