Neumark and Lee

Where are they now?

The trip back to 1980 (or so) in this photo is fascinating enough. It takes us right into the clothing and hair styles of the era, and the equipment, and the scientists’ oneness with with the apparatus. But a lot has happened since then.

For instance: the professor standing there with his armpit full of gauges went on, a half-dozen years later, to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He’s Yuan T. Lee, who was born in Taiwan and came to Berkeley for his Ph.D., which he earned in 1965. As a grad student, he became interested in crossed molecular beam studies of reaction dynamics, and in pursuit of this he made major contributions to the understanding of elementary chemical processes. After working at Harvard with Dudley Herschbach (who would become one of his co-winners of the Nobel), he came back to Cal in 1974 as a professor of chemistry and a principal investigator at LBNL. After two decades here, he returned to Taiwan to head its most prominent research institution, Academia Sinica. Lee has retired from that post, and this year begins a term as president of the International Council for Science.

And Lee’s grad students, perched so casually on the machinery? The one in the yellow shirt, Daniel Neumark (Ph.D. ’84), is still at Berkeley, where he is the new chair of the chemistry department. The fellow on the left with the mustache, Alec Wodtke (Ph.D. ’86), is now director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. In plaid at the top of the pyramid then, Gary Robinson (Ph.D. ’88) is now chief business officer for Celek Pharmaceuticals, whcih he co-founded in 2009.

All this might have remained unconnected if an indistinct photocopy of the quartet image hadn’t turned up in Daniel Neumark’s lab. On a hunch, Michael Barnes, who edits the College of Chemistry’s magazine Catalyst and is himself a Cal alum (econ, A.B.D., and winner of an Outstanding GSI Award in ’93), sent a copy to LBNL photographer Roy Kaltschmidt, who dug around and found the original image in the lab’s photo archives. And it now graces the cover of the Fall 2010/Winter2011 issue of Catalyst. In it (on page 4), Daniel Neumark introduces himself as the new chair and answers the question all department chairs must ask themselves: “Why am I doing this?”