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UAlbany Researcher Receives Highest Award in Natural Products Chemistry

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 17, 2015) – University at Albany Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Eric Block will receive the 2016 Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The award is designed to recognize and encourage outstanding achievements in the analysis, structure elucidation, and chemical synthesis of natural products. Four Nobel laureates are among past recipients of the award, which was first given in 1949 and is regarded as the highest honor in the field of natural products chemistry.

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Eric Block
Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Eric Block (Photo Mark Schmidt)

A formal announcement of the names of the 2016 ACS National Award Recipients will be made in the August 24, 2015, issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Block will receive the award at the Society’s 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego, on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Block, the Carla Rizzo Delray Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at UAlbany’s College of Arts and Sciences, was previously named as a member of the 2014 class of Fellows of ACS, the world’s largest scientific society. He is an expert on organosulfur and food chemistry, particularly that associated with onion, garlic, and other alliums, as well as on olfaction (the sense of smell).

Block joined the UAlbany faculty in 1981. He served as Chair of Chemistry at UAlbany from 1985-1991 and has mentored more than 66 graduate and postdoctoral coworkers. Block has also previously been honored as a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the leading international organization dedicated to the advancement of science.

Block is the author of more than 240 scientific papers, four books, and 10 patents in the field of organic chemistry, and has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation since 1980. His work has also been supported by the National Institutes of Health and Department of Agriculture.

Block is the recipient of national and international awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been a Chinese Academy of Sciences Visiting Professor, a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University, and Michael Visiting Professor at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

In 2015, Block led an international team of scientists in a study which demonstrated that the vibrational theory of olfaction, one of the two major theories explaining how the sense of smell functions, is not plausible.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research compared the reactivity of muscone (the major component of musk fragrance, used in most perfumes) and its counterpart with all hydrogen atoms replaced by the heavy hydrogen isotope deteurium, toward the human musk olfactory receptor. The researchers found that the receptor responded identically to the two compounds, which is counter to expectations for the vibration theory, since carbon–deuterium bonds have very different vibrational frequencies than carbon–hydrogen bonds.

The Ernest Guenther Award was established in 1948 by Fritzsche Dodge and Olcott Inc. to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the company. Since 1969, the award has been named for Guenther, author of the landmark Essential Oils, a six-volume reference on the methods for analysis of essential oils and their individual chemical constituents, and the oils' history, chemistry, biological origin and functions. Givaudan has supported the award since 1992. Guenther was vice president and technical director of Givaudan, one of the oldest and largest flavor and fragrance houses in the world.

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