Colorado State University Chemistry Professor Receives National Award for Excellence in Natural Products Research

Note to Reporters: A photo of Robert Williams is available with the news release at

The American Chemical Society has honored Robert M. Williams, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University, with the 2011 Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products. The award is one of the highest honors for an organic chemistry scholar in the country.

Williams will receive the award from the American Chemical Society, which comes with $6,000 and a medallion, at a ceremony at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in the spring. Award winners must have accomplished outstanding work in the analysis, structure elucidation and chemical synthesis of natural products.

“This is a tremendous honor for Dr. Williams and for the chemistry department at Colorado State,” said Ellen Fisher, chair of the department. “Our faculty are among the scientific leaders in directly addressing health problems that face the entire globe. As a result, students are learning the fundamental science and practical approaches to solving these issues from some of the best people in their fields.”

Williams studies significant problems in the general area of biological chemistry, particularly those concerning the synthesis and biosynthesis of natural products, cancer and multiple drug-resistant bacterial infectious diseases. The research demands the intimate interplay of synthetic organic chemistry, physical organic chemistry, microbiology and molecular biology.

Natural product synthesis, one of the oldest areas in chemistry, offers the ability to create new or improved pathways to a particular biologically active molecule, to provide more cost-effective means for obtaining a particular pharmaceutical target than by extraction from natural sources like trees or plants, and to develop methodologies for altering the structure of molecules found in nature to improve their viability in fighting virulent bacterial infections or diseases such as cancer. Williams and his research group have been responsible for the creative synthesis of dozens of natural products.

Upon completion of his postdoctoral tenure at Harvard, Williams joined the faculty at Colorado State in 1980. He was promoted to associate professor in 1985, full professor in 1988 and University Distinguished Professor – a title held by only 12 faculty members at any one time across campus – in 2002. A few of his many honors and awards include the NIH Research Career Development Award (1984-1989); the Eli Lilly Young Investigator Award (1986); Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (1986); the Merck Academic Development Award (1991); the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship (1999); the ACS Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award (2002); and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation Senior Award (2009). In addition, he has directed the research of more than 60 post-doctoral fellows, more than 50 doctoral students, eight master’s students and scores of undergraduate researchers.

He serves on the editorial board of the journal Chemistry & Biology and serves as a co-director of the Experimental Therapeutics groups of the Infectious Disease and Cancer Superclusters at Colorado State. He has served as a Scientific Founder and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Microcide Pharmaceutical Co. in Mountainview, Calif., a Founding Scientist, member of the Scientific Advisory Board and a member of the Board of Directors of Xcyte Therapies in Seattle. Currently, he is a Founding Scientist and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of HemaQuest Pharmaceuticals in Seattle.

The Ernest Guenther Award was established in 1948 by Fritzsche Dodge and Olcott Inc., in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the company. The Swiss company Givaudan, the largest company in the world in the field of fragrances and flavors, acquired Fritzsche Dodge and Olcott in 1990.

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