The University of Deseret was created by Brigham Young and the territorial government 163 years ago as the first institution of higher learning in Utah. What began with classes taught in private homes has grown into the modern University of Utah, where students can learn from faculty who are leaders in their research fields.
Chemistry is one of the largest and most developed of the natural sciences, with 91,000 working chemists in the United States alone, including 4,500 professors of chemistry.
The American Chemical Society recently awarded professor Peter J. Stang, former dean of the College of Science and chair of the Department of Chemistry, its highest award for lifetime contributions to the field of chemistry, the Priestly Medal. It is remarkable that of the 40 Priestly Medals awarded since 1973, three have gone to chemistry faculty at the U.
Henry B. Eyring, the 1975 recipient, was a physical chemist who developed the "Transition State Theory" of elementary chemical reactions, which provided chemists with a conceptual foundation for understanding how chemical reactions occur. This has been important in many areas of chemistry but particularly in understanding the function of enzymes, which catalyze chemical reactions in plants and animals.
In 1993, the Priestly Medal was awarded to professor Robert W. Parry, an inorganic chemist and the pre-eminent authority on the chemistry of compounds containing boron, which are widely used in industry. In a 60-year career, Parry was a distinguished researcher, a respected teacher of chemistry to thousands of students, and a national leader of the chemistry profession.
Stang, the 2013 medalist, is a distinguished organic chemist and long-time editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's most important chemistry journal. His development of supramolecular chemistry through directional bonding techniques has allowed laboratory synthesis of complex molecules by chemical reactions that mimic pathways found in living plants and animals. He also has been a major influence on the growth of chemical research in developing countries, China in particular.
In our increasingly interconnected but distracting world, it is easy to overlook how distinguished the successor to the University of Deseret has become. Many appreciate the entrance of the Utes into the Pac 12 and professor Mario Capecchi's receipt of the Nobel Prize.
It is also important to recognize that the University of Utah's faculty continues to distinguish itself in the highly competitive world of academic research, which creates most of the new ideas that will shape our future.
The citizens of Utah, and most certainly its students, continue to benefit from the farsighted and ambitious enterprise that began in a pioneer settlement at the edge of the Great Basin desert on Feb. 28, 1850.
Thomas N. Parks is vice president for research at the University of Utah.