Professor Stephen J. Lippard, whose work has deepened the understanding of how a metal-containing drug attacks cancer, has been named head of the Department of Chemistry.
The appointment, effective July 1, was announced by Dean of Science Robert J. Birgeneau. Dr. Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry, will succeed Professor Robert J. Silbey, who is completing five years in the post. The dean commended Professor Silbey for his "excellent service."
Professor Lip-pard was "enthusiastically recommended" by an advisory committee headed by Professor Robert W. Field, Dean Birgeneau said.
"He combines outstanding research accomplishments with an excellent record of undergraduate and graduate education," the dean said in announcing his selection to the department faculty. "Through his and his wife Judy's efforts at MacGregor [where he is housemaster] Steve has also demonstrated a deep commitment to MIT students and student life."
Professor Lippard is a pioneer in bioinorganic chemistry, a specialty that deals with the interactions between metals and biological systems. The anti-cancer drug he has studied for years is cisplatin, which contains platinum and which is effective against testicular cancer and ovarian cancer.
Little was known of how cisplatin works when he began his investigation of the drug several years ago as a faculty member at Columbia University. He continued the work when he came to MIT in 1983. In a 1994 MIT Spectrum article on his research, Professor Lippard said, "We'd like to learn enough (about how the drug works) so we can design new types of platinum compounds that are effective against different forms of cancer."
The Lippard lab also is engaged in a major program to understand another biological interaction involving metals, specifically the diiron center in methane monooxygenase, through studies of the enzyme and model compounds. This diiron center is remarkable in that it converts methane to methanol in bacteria which use methane as their sole source of carbon and energy. His group is also active in synthesizing coordination compounds and organometallic compounds of unusual structure and reactivity.
Professor Lippard has been recognized for his work by election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Medicine. He also has received the two major American Chemical Society (ACS) awards in his field-the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry sponsored by Monsanto Co. in 1987 and the ACS Award for Distinguished Service in Inorganic Chemistry sponsored by Mallinckrodt Co. in 1994. He also is the recipient of the 1995 William H. Nichols Medal of the New York Section of the ACS.
Professor Lippard's research spans the fields of inorganic and biological chemistry. He is the author or co-author of many research articles and holds several US and foreign patents. He has recently published a book with Jeremy M. Berg, Principles of Bioinorganic Chemistry (University Science Books: Mill Valley, CA, 1994).
Professor Lippard, a native of Pittsburgh, holds the BA degree from Haverford College (1962) and the PhD from MIT (1965). He taught at Columbia from 1966 until joining the MIT faculty in 1983.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 1995.