One of my functions at WPI, and, in fact, one of the most pleasant of
these is to provide introductions for Professor W. N. Lipscomb's
seminars, or should I say performances, here. It is now a year and a
half since I last discharged this office and I trust that many of you
recall the magnificent colloquium Professor Lipscomb delivered in May of
1975 on hydrolytic enzymes. I will next introduce him this evening at
Higgins House when he is made an honorary member of Phi Lambda Upsilon.
Fortunately, there is always plenty to say about Professor Lipscomb.
The year and a half which has elapsed since he last spoke in this room
have not been uneventful for Professor Lipscomb. His tremendous research
output in chemistry and biochemistry has continued and in his role as a
virtuoso clarinetist he has per- formed in at least four concerts. Most
exciting, of course, is his very recent receipt of the Nobel Prize in
chemistry for his structural and theoretical studies of boranes. During
the period when I was a student it was not unknown for graduate students
occasionally to feel oppressed by their professor It was, perhaps, in
such a mood that I mentally recorded the following conversation of
Professor Lipscomb and, perhaps, my paraphrase is not completely
accurate. I am recalling Professor Lipscomb's remark after he had
learned that one of his graduate students had wasted a considerable
amount of time and money on a fruitless series of calculations. "If when
I give you a choice", said Professor Lipscomb to the student, "you fail
to take the alternative which I want, I will not give you choices any
There are many subjects on which it would be enjoyable to hear Professor
Lipscomb speak: experimental boron chemistry, theoretical chemistry,
biochemistry. I would also be more than content to hear him perform in
the Mozart Clarinet Concerto or hear him discourse on strategies of
winning tennis. This afternoon we will be privileged to hear Professor
Lipscomb speak about biochemistry, on the Structures and Regulatory
Processes in Aspartate Transcarbamylase. It is a privilege to welcome
him again to this podium.
Herb Beall, with best wishes
To anyone who has watched the television or read the newspapers during
the past several weeks, Professor Lipscomb has become a familiar face.
It is now common knowledge that he wears a bow tie and works in an
office cluttered with stick models of boranes. Today every informed
school student is familiar with his scientific career from the
generation of noxious vapors with which to irritate his sisters as a
youth to the elegant structural and bonding studies of the geometrically
fascinating but often also noxious boranes which led to his receiving
the Nobel Prize.
This evening I would prefer to complement rather than compete with the
vast resources for gathering and disseminating information of the
newspapers and television. Instead of dwelling on his scientific
accomplishments which are already familiar to you, I will discuss other
areas of achievement which I find intriguing and hope that you will
also. This evening I would like to discuss W. N. Lipscomb the musician
and W. N. Lipscomb the repairer of clocks.
During his first year in high school Professor Lipscomb aspired to play
the oboe. However, the school bandmaster being already surfeited with
players of that particularly pungent instrument directed him instead to a
more mellow reed, the clarinet, and gave such instruction as the
compass of his own knowledge and the fingering chart would allow. Such
an unprepossessing beginning is common enough to many a short-lived
musical career but Professor Lipscomb proved to be exceptional in music
as in science. He proceeded to receive the highest ranking in the
Kentucky state competition and was awarded a scholarship in music at the
University of Kentucky. He has been principal clarinetist with the
Pasadena Civic Orchestra and the Minneapolis Civic Orchestra and was one
of the founders of the New Friends of Chamber Music in Minneapolis.
While in Minneapolis he was the soloist in a performance of the Mozart
clarinet concerto in A and performed in the Bartok Contrasts for
clarinet, violin and piano on television.
He has continued to remain active in musical performance since his
arrival at Harvard in 1959. Boston area appearances include the Gardener
Museum in 1965, the Austrian American Association in 1970, Northeastern
University and Mather House of Harvard in 1972, both Kirkland and
Currier Houses of Harvard in 1973, the Crescendo Club of Boston and the
Cambridge Center for Adult Education in 1974, and the All Newton Music
School and the Longfellow House Concert Series in 1975.
Outside of the Boston area he has performed at Pembroke College,
Cambridge, in 1966, Beloit College in 1968, Lexington, Kentucky, in
1974, and has made annual appearances in Weston, Vermont, since 1965,
including Mozart's Symphonic Concertante for four winds and orchestra
about two months ago.
Discussion of W. N. Lipscomb the repairer of clocks must proceed in a
somewhat lighter vein and I will give one example of his work in this
area. Some years ago the hall clock in his laboratory at Harvard had
been a source of continual annoyance to him by virtue of its
consistently operating so as to give a time which was in variance with
accepted standards by minus three minutes. When his tolerance for this
behavior had worn thin and it appeared obvious that Professor Lipscomb's
hard looks and unkind words toward the miscreant would not bring about
reform, he decided on action. Unfortunately, the clock was of a
primitive institutional type, the mechanism of which responded only to
the impulses of the great master clock in University Hall and not to the
hands of mortal man. Lesser beings would have surrendered and given
themselves to the indignities of adding a correctional constant to the
clock's time. I am proud to report that Professor Lipscomb did not so
acquiesce. With the aid of properly chosen tools he neatly bent the
minute hand of that clock so that the precisely correct time was
displayed and until very recently this clock with its bent minute hand
was seen on the laboratory wall as a monument to a victory by man over
Professor Lipscomb's list of honors and awards covers pages as is to be
expected. Somewhat unusual among these is an iron phosphate mineral
which was named lipscombite in
his honor by its discoverer, J. W. Gruner. Still in the future is the
discovery of a mineral with the same structure except with the positions
of positive and negative ions reversed which will then be called antilipscombite.
Today's lecture by Professor Lipscomb on enzymes demonstrated an
important and very different realm of scientific research than that of
boranes for which he won the Nobel Prize. Professor Lipscomb has
excelled as a scholar, as a researcher, as a teacher and as a musician.
We are privileged, indeed, to be able to honor a man who has achieved so
Citation by Herbert Beall Herb
Publications with Lipscomb
Kaesz, H. D., Bau, R., Beall, H. A. and Lipscomb, W. N., "Rearrangements in the
Icosahedral Carboranes," J. Am. Chem. Soc. 89, 4218-4220 (1967).
Beall, H. A. and Lipscomb, W. N., "Molecular and Crystal Structure of m-B10Br2H8C2H2," Inorg. Chem. 6, 874-879 (1967).
Beall, H. A. and Lipscomb, W. N., "A New Method for the Preparation of B6H10,"
Inorg. Chem. 3, 1783 (1964).