Students, Scientists Gather To Celebrate Herschbach

They came from as near as the Mallinckrodt chemistry labs on Oxford Street and as far as Berkeley, Calif.

Over the weekend, about 150 scientists—including former students, colleagues and Nobel laureates—gathered in the Science Center to celebrate the career and work of Dudley R. Herschbach.

Herschbach, who is Baird research professor of science and turned 70 this summer, shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on elementary chemical processes. He is probably best known as the charismatic former professor of Chemistry 10, which he said was his “most satisfying and difficult assignment.”

The three-day symposium was officially called “New Frontiers in Chemical Physics” but the attendees quickly nicknamed it “Dudfest 2002.” The many weekend events, which included discussions on chemical physics and the role of science in society, also featured a gala banquet at the Museum of Science in Boston on Saturday night.

And as a tribute to one of the more playful aspects of Herschbach’s personality, a kazoo band performed.


“I am enormously touched by all the nice things...but I don’t take it personally,” Herschbach said. “These things really refer to the whole community, our clan.”

Richard Zare ’61, who was one of Herschbach’s first post-doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley several decades ago, called the celebration a “grand gathering of the Herschbach fan club” and emphasized his tireless dedication to his research.

“We worked hard, but no one worked as hard as Dudley,” he said. “Dudley worked until he collapsed.”

“Few of us can aspire to his insight, his creativity,” Zare added, “and in that sense he’s a lousy role model.”

Anita Goel, who recently received her doctorate, was one of Herschbach’s last graduate students at Harvard. She called the event, which she helped coordinate, “a trip down memory lane.”

“I can’t say enough great things about him,” she said. “He has influenced and touched so many people.”

The speakers extolled Herschbach’s creativity, his dedication to teaching and his contributions to science in general as well as the undergraduate program at Harvard.

“His concern, his care for his students, has brought out good things in everybody,” said Yuan Lee of UC-Berkeley, who shared the 1986 Nobel Prize with Herschbach.

University President Lawrence H. Summers delivered welcoming remarks on Saturday, praising Herschbach as one who “has made transforming breakthroughs in his field that were recognized in every way.”

Summers said Herschbach’s approach to science was “not to sit in splendid isolation in his quiet study but to work collaboratively and stimulatively with students as a major source of inspiration.”

Though he retired from teaching lecture courses last year, Herschbach will give a freshman seminar in the spring on molecular motors and pumps. He also plans to devote more time to writing and to his research in biophysics.

“Now I’m on ‘perpetual sabbatical,’” he said. “Once you turn 70, you have to make room for...younger faculty...but the thing I miss most is teaching.”

Teaching, he said, gave him a chance to show that “science is not boring, as many believe, but rather exhilarating.”

—Staff writer Tiffany I. Hsieh can be reached at