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In Memoriam: Corwin H. Hansch

Corwin H. Hansch
Professor of Chemistry Emeritus
1918–2011

Corwin H. Hansch, professor of chemistry at Pomona College from 1946 to 1988, died May 8, 2011, after a long bout with pneumonia. He had served on the Pomona College faculty from 1946 until 1988, and even after retiring from teaching he had continued with his research in the Chemistry Department until 2010. He was 92.

Hansch, the founder of Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships (QSAR), received his B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. from New York University. After a brief postdoctoral stint at the University of Illinois, Chicago, he worked on the Manhattan Project at University of Chicago and at DuPont Nemours in Richland, Wash. After World War II ended, he took a position as research chemist at Du Pont Nemours, but left soon thereafter, coming to Pomona College in 1946. During his tenure, he completed two sabbaticals, one at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the other in Rolf Huisgren’s laboratory at the University of Munich.

Shortly after arriving at Pomona, he met a Pomona botany professor, Robert Muir, and their mutual interest in understanding the workings of plant hormones led to his pioneering work in QSAR. Hansch soon changed the direction of his research from the study of high temperature dehydrogenations to the correlation of biological activity with chemical structure; this led to the publication of his early, seminal works in QSAR, ably aided by Toshio Fujita. The founder of QSAR, Hansch came to be recognized as the “father of computer-assisted molecular design,” and the methodology he spawned is now utilized in most pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies.

The author of numerous books running the gamut from organic chemistry texts to medicinal chemistry to QSAR treatises, he also wrote or co-authored more than 400 publications in all. During the period of 1965 to 1978, he was one of the 300 most cited scientists in the world. He also received many awards, including two Pomona College Wig Awards for excellence in teaching, two Guggenheim Fellowships and numerous accolades from the American, Italian and Japanese Chemical Societies. He was the first recipient of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution (1986), as well as the first recipient of the Smissman-Bristol-Myers-Squibb Award from the ACS’s Division of Medicinal Chemistry (1975). In 1990, he was elected to the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 2007, he was inducted into the ACS’s Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame.

Mentor to a large number of undergraduate students and more than 40 visiting scientists and postdoctoral scholars from the U.S. and around the world, Hansch helped raise the profile of research at primarily undergraduate institutions and was instrumental in establishing the Fred J. Robbins Lectureship in Chemistry which helps to bring scientists of Nobel Laureate stature to the Pomona College campus.

In recent years, he devoted his time and effort to developing and organizing QSAR equations based on data generated internally and from global literature. His electronic database CQSAR, now contains more than 22,000 mathematical models. He was especially interested in comparing chemical QSAR with biological QSAR to gain insight into how chemicals interact with biological receptors.

Hansch was a voracious reader, his reading tastes ranging from scientific literature and politics to economics and film. He and his wife, Gloria, who was instrumental to his success, loved to travel, and their adventures spanned the globe. He was an avid skier and loved to ski Mt. Baldy, Aspen, the Alps and the Andes. —Cynthia Selassie