Herbert Hauptman

Herbert Hauptman

American mathematician, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry 1985
Date of Birth: 14.02.1917
Country: USA

Biography of Herbert Hauptman

Herbert Hauptman was born into the Israel and Leah Hauptman family in the Bronx. He grew up in the Bronx and received his secondary education at the Trunsend Harris school, which he graduated from in 1933. He then studied mathematics at City College, part of the New York University, where he met Jerome Karle. Hauptman obtained his bachelor's degree from the college in 1937, and a master's degree in mathematics from Columbia University in 1939.

After completing his education, Hauptman worked as a statistician at the Bureau of the Census, and later served in the United States Air Force as an electronics instructor and then as a meteorologist officer. In 1947, he was appointed as a mathematical physicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C, where he rekindled his friendship with Karle. Their scientific collaboration began in the field of research and development of mathematical methods for the X-ray diffraction analysis of crystal structures.

X-ray diffraction analysis is used to determine the spatial configuration of molecules by subjecting a pure crystal to X-ray beams. Some of the beams pass through the crystal, while others are deflected by the atomic nuclei. The deflected beams are captured on photographic film as thousands of spots, forming a distinct pattern. This pattern vaguely resembles the exact distribution of atoms within the crystal. The existing methods available to researchers at that time required laborious and time-consuming analysis of the registered spots on the film. By analyzing the intensity of the spots and the arrangement of the points, Hauptman and Karle were able to calculate the phase of the X-ray beam, which indicates the extent of deflection of each beam as it passes through the crystal. Based on these calculations, they created an electron density map of the crystal, which showed the precise location of atoms and provided a picture of the molecular structure of the substance. The method developed by Karle and Hauptman allowed for direct correlation between the intensity and arrangement of spots with the positioning of atoms within a molecule.

In 1953, Karle and Hauptman published a paper on the results of their work. This highly complex composition, filled with mathematical formulas, appeared to be unrelated to chemistry, and its applicability to solving structural problems was met with skepticism, if not hostility, by many crystallographers. The main barrier to the acceptance of the method was the lack of chemical knowledge among researchers regarding the mathematical aspects of the proposed procedure. As a result, Karle and Hauptman did not receive any support from other researchers in the field, and their direct method of structure determination remained unused for 15 years. The significant contribution made by Karle and Hauptman in this area after 1956 was the practical application of the method, particularly for crystals that do not possess axial symmetry.

Recognition of their work came only in the late 1960s when Karle's wife, Isabella, a physical chemist and a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory, applied their method in practice to analyze large molecules. The results of her experiments convinced crystallography experts of the usefulness and high degree of accuracy of the direct method of structure determination. The methods developed by Karle and Hauptman led to significant advancements in the field of crystallography and are now the system used for analyzing most new compounds. They are commonly used to study complex organic molecules involved in metabolism, such as hormones, antibiotics, and vitamins.

The Karle-Hauptman method reduced the time required to recreate the three-dimensional structure from months (or sometimes years) to one or two days, a possibility achieved in the 1980s with the development of the corresponding computer software. In 1955, Hauptman obtained a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Maryland for his dissertation on X-ray diffraction analysis.

During his years at the Naval Research Laboratory, Hauptman held various positions, including head of the Mathematical Physics Division (1965–1967), director of the Mathematics and Scientific Information Division (1967–1968), head of the Applied Mathematics Division (1968–1969), and head of the Mathematical Support Division in the Optics Department (1969–1970).

From 1970 to 1972, Hauptman served as the Deputy Director for Science at the Buffalo Medical Foundation in Buffalo, New York, a small institute supported by private funding, whose main objective was to study the functions of the endocrine system and deviations from normalcy caused by hormonal dysfunction. In 1972, he became the Vice President and Scientific Director of the Buffalo Medical Foundation, as well as a professor of biophysics at the University at Buffalo, New York.

In 1985, Hauptman and Jerome Karle were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for their outstanding achievements in the development of direct methods for the determination of crystal structures."

Hauptman enjoys hiking and swimming, and his hobbies include listening to classical music and constructing polyhedra from colored glass. These interests are integral to his work in calculating molecular structures. He has authored several notable works, including "Solution of structure-factor equations" (1951) and "Solution of the Phase Problem I. The Centrosymmetric Crystal" (1953), both written with Jerome Karle, as well as "Crystal Structure Determination: The Role of the Cosine Semivariants" (1972).

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