Richmond Sarpong receives ACS Edward Leete Award for 2021

September 16, 2021

Richmond Sarpong

The College of Chemistry is delighted to announce that Professor of Chemistry Richmond Sarpong has been announced as the 2021 Edward Leete awardee from the Division of Organic Chemistry of the American Chemical Society in recognization of his outstanding contributions to teaching and research in organic chemistry. Other College of Chemistry faculty who have previously received this award include Professor Peter Vollhardt (1999) and Professor Robert Bergman (2001).

The Edward Leete Awardee is selected by the Executive Committee of the Organic Division and is presented biennially at the Society’s national meeting. The award is named in honor of Edward Leete who, through his contributions to science and education, fostered an appreciation and love for organic chemistry. The award was endowed by contributions from Professor Leete’s students and colleagues.

About Richmond Sarpong

Prof. Sarpong is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of California Berkeley where he and his group specialize in synthetic organic chemistry. Prof. Sarpong became interested in chemistry after seeing, firsthand, the effectiveness of the drug Ivermectin in combating river blindness during his childhood in Ghana, West Africa. He described his influences and inspirations in a TEDxBerkeley talk in 2015 (Face of Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa). He completed his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN with Prof. Rebecca C. Hoye and his graduate work was carried out with Prof. Martin Semmelhack at Princeton. He conducted postdoctoral studies at Caltech with Prof. Brian Stoltz.

At Berkeley, Prof. Sarpong’s laboratory focuses on the synthesis of bioactive complex organic molecules, with a particular focus on secondary metabolites that come from marine or terrestrial flora and fauna. These natural products continue to serve as the inspiration for new medicines. It is Richmond’s hope that through the work in his laboratory, he and his coworkers will uncover methods and strategies for synthesis that may contribute to more efficient ways to prepare bioactive compounds that may inspire new medicines.

About the award’s namesake Edward Leete (1928-1992)

Edward Leete was born on April 18, 1928 in Leeds, England. In 1948, he received the B.Sc. degree from the University of Leeds where he also completed the Ph.D. in 1950 with William Bradley in the organic chemistry of colors and dyestuffs. He was awarded a two-year Goldsmiths Company Traveling Fellowship, which he spent with the well-known French-Canadian alkaloid chemist, Leo Marion and with whom he continued until 1954 as a NRC Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in Ottawa. He began his academic career at UCLA as instructor, then assistant professor, and moved to the University of Minnesota in 1958 where he became full professor in 1963. Among his awards, are the first Phytochemistry Prize and Medal (1990) and University of Minnesota Distinguished Teaching Award (1976).

Beginning in his postdoctoral work at NRC, research on alkaloids became his career choice and passion which he followed with a consistent focus to answer the encompassing question: how do plants take the available amino acids and make such complex and variable structures as the alkaloids?  He pursued the field of “alkaloid biogenesis” with all methods available at that time: both radioactive and non-radioactive tracer analysis and NMR spectroscopy. His work was internationally recognized and appeared in some 250 publications.