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Bertram Fraser-Reid

Chemist and chemistry professor Bertram Oliver Fraser-Reid was born on February 23, 1934 in Coleyville, Jamaica. In 1956, Fraser-Reid enrolled at Queen’s University in Canada and graduated from there with his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in chemistry in 1959 and 1961, respectively. He went on to earn his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the University of Alberta in 1964 under the supervision of Dr. Raymond Lemieux. Upon graduation, Fraser-Reid was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at Imperial College of the University of London and studied under Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Barton from 1964 to 1966.

From 1966 to 1980, Fraser-Reid served on faculty of the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario where he established a research group known as “Fraser-Reid's Rowdies.” His work at the University of Waterloo emphasized the synthesis of chiral natural products, such as insect pheromones, could be made using carbohydrates as the starting materials instead of petroleum products. In 1980, Fraser-Reid briefly taught chemistry at the University of Maryland, College Park before he was hired by Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in 1982. In 1985, Fraser-Reid was named James B. Duke Professor of Chemistry. He later found the Natural Products and Glycotechnology Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina where he oversaw research to develop carbohydrate-based vaccines to fight malaria and tuberculosis.

Fraser-Reid received the Merck, Sharp & Dohme Award in 1977 from the Chemical Institute of Canada, and he was honored with the Claude S. Hudson Award in 1989 from the American Chemical Society. Fraser-Reid was nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998, and he was recognized as the Senior Distinguished U.S. Scientist by West Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1990. In 1991, Fraser-Reid was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received the Percy L. Julian Award from the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. The American Institute of Chemistry named him the North Carolina Chemist of the Year in 1995. In addition, the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed upon him the Haworth Memorial Medal and Lectureship, the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science elected him as a Fellow, and the Institute of Jamaica honored him with the Musgrave Gold Medal.

Bertram Oliver Fraser-Reid was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 6, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.106

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/6/2013

Last Name

Fraser-Reid

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Oliver

Schools

Imperial College, University of London

Queen's University

University of Alberta

Bryce Elementary School

Clarendon College

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bertram

Birth City, State, Country

Coleyville

HM ID

FRA10

Favorite Season

Fall

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere New

Favorite Quote

One day at a time.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

2/23/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Pittsboro

Country

Jamaica

Favorite Food

Cake (Chocolate)

Short Description

Chemist and chemistry professor Bertram Fraser-Reid (1934 - ) is a well-respected scientist whose research in carbohydrate chemistry has led to significant advances in many diverse fields.

Employment

University of Waterloo

Duke University

University of Maryland, College Park

NPG Research Institute

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bertram Fraser-Reid's interview - part one

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Bertram Fraser-Reid's interview - part two

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his mother and his step-mother, and how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his father's education and his interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the early relationship between school and church in Brice, Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the school where his father was a head teacher and describes the Jamaican education system

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his father's personality, and his first experiment in chemistry

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his siblings and his likeness to his father

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the landscape of the island of Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about attending school in Brice, Jamaica and going to boarding school in Kingston, Jamaica

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his father's emphasis on his education and learning

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his experience in high school in Kingston, Jamaica

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his experience in high school at the foothills of Bullhead Mountain, Jamaica

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his decision to pursue his studies in chemistry

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his poor preparation in the sciences in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes the influence of his friends' mother, Mrs. Jackson, in his pursuit of higher education in Canada

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his decision to attend Queens University in Canada

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his choice to study in Canada over the United States

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his experience at Queens University in Canada

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about taking his first physics exams while he was in college

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about working with chemist J.K.N. Jones at Queens University as an undergraduate student

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the history of sugar production, slavery, and his introduction to sugar chemistry in the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his mentors at Queens University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about attending the University of Alberta to pursue his doctoral degree with Professor Raymond Lemieux

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his doctoral dissertation research in sugar chemistry

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his postdoctoral advisor, Sir Derek Barton at Imperial College in London

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about how he met his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his research in interest pheromone chemistry - part one

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes the concept of optical isomers of sugars

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the application of sugar chemistry to pheromone synthesis

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his decision to accept a position at the University of Maryland in 1980

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the strengths of the undergraduate program in chemistry at the University of Waterloo in Canada

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his experience at the University of Maryland and his decision to accept a position at Duke University in 1982

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about developing a novel method to link simple sugars into oligosaccharides, and its potential applications

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid reflects upon being nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about playing the organ internationally, while traveling for conferences

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his research interest in RNA synthesis

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about the funding that he has received for his work on RNA synthesis

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his former interest in applying carbohydrate chemistry to find a cure for AIDS

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid reflects upon his legacy - part one

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Bertram Fraser-Reid reflects upon his legacy - part two

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about receiving the Percy Julian Award from the NOBCChe in 1991

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community today

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his photographs - part one

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his photographs - part two

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Bertram Fraser-Reid talks about taking his first physics exams while he was in college
Bertram Fraser-Reid describes his research in interest pheromone chemistry - part one
Transcript
But I learned a lot because some parts of chemistry involve a lot of physics. And I mention that only because I think this is one of the most interesting things that came up. I was due to graduate in May, and in February, the registrar called me in to come to see her. And she says, you haven't taken any physics since you're here at Queens. I said, that's right, Ms. Royce. And she went on to say, and there is no physics on your record at Clarendon College in Jamaica. I said, no, we didn't have any physics teachers. She says, oh, I don't know what to say because we can't allow you to graduate without any physics. And then I fell right to the floor. And then she lifted me immediately and said, why don't you go over to the high school, speak to Mr. Earl, and ask him if you can take the physics exam with his students. I went to him, and he was a very, very nice man and said, oh, that would be fine with me. You can do that. But I don't know when you would study for it because you, your last exams are whatever. And the exams for physics is two weeks later. So how can you do that? And I said, I'm gonna do it, sir, because I had to study so much physics on my own to understand the chemistry because there's physical chemistry, and there's organic chemistry, and there's ana--and so you have to be able to know what this is. And one of my dearest buddies--he just passed away, gave me his book because he had used it in the first year, and I still have it (laughter), still have Barry's physics book. And--$$So you studied Barron physics--(simultaneous)$$No, my friend, I'm sorry, my friend was, his name was Barry.$$Okay.$$And he was from Trinidad. And he, so he said, here, I'm not gonna use this again. He was studying geology. So he gave it to me (laughter), gave me his physics book. And I looked at what--and discovered that really the chemistry I had been studying in physical chemistry, just has physics married to it, so to speak. So all you need to do to master physics for the high school chemistry is to divorce the two subjects. And so I went and he gave me some back exams, Mr. Earl, the teacher at the school. And I could solve them by just looking at the physics I knew. And I got an A in it.$$That's very good.$$Yeah.$And now, in '66' [1966], you returned to Canada to the University of Waterloo?$$'66 [1966], not '56 [1956].$$'66 [1966], yeah, '66 [1966].$$Yeah.$$Near Toronto [Canada], right?$$That's right.$$And you continued, then you got back on the sugar chemistry research?$$Right.$$Now, what--now, I have here that you were determined that sugar could be used to create many carbon-based chemicals, medicines, plastics and paints. And is this, now, this sounds like George Washington Carver [pioneering African American scientist] almost with the peanut. I mean you, so all these things could be created with sugar?$$I don't know about paint, I don't know about paint.$$Okay, I'll scratch that one out.$$But because of my training with [Raymond] Lemieux, I saw that these could be used for compounds which themselves are not sugar. Typically, the synthetic work that was done in sugar which is, you know, such a great source of material. You know, you have starch. That's a sugar. You have glucose. These are easily obtainable sugars. But most of the work that was going on was taking one sugar and making another. Now, part of that is because of the repertoire of chemicals that we had. Sugars are very easily abused, so, you know, they burn, as you know. So you can't use reagents on them that are too strong. And I was fortunate to come in at a time when the reagents that you could use on sugar were now available much more readily. Well, we were in Canada, University of Waterloo and I remember this so clearly. We, one of our seminar speakers had come from the Canadian insect control, whatever. And Canada had a big problem at the time with beetles eating the lumber. And the cost to Canada was in the billion dollar range. Okay, well, I asked, well, we asked this guy to come and give us some lectures on how the insect, the insect damage to the trees, how bad is it? And he introduced me to then practice, developing practice, particularly in Alabama, to try to fight insects by using insect pheromones. And he said, well, we have pheromones of the beetles that do it, and I said, what does it look like? And so he drew up on my blackboard in my office a structure, and I said, boy, that doesn't look--I'm not familiar with that type of structure. And he said, well, if you think about it, let me know because he has to go to speak with another professor. Well, he left the thing on my board, and I then took it and built a model of it. Do you know what I mean? A chemical model, you know?$$Explain it.$$Well, most of the time when you look, if I--normally, the molecules as they're drawn on the blackboard are only drawn in two dimensions. But the molecules are in three dimensions. So I, with these models, you can make it in three dimensions, and so it's totally different from what you're seeing on the board. I turned it around. I said, oh, my goodness. This is so and so and so and so. And I decided that, you know, this may be an interesting thing to synthesize. And I applied to the Canadian Research Council for, I remember it was only 68-, $68,000 for a student and me to try to synthesize this. And we did, and there's a picture of Brian up there, and me, plotting the synthesis of this compound. And so that, we did synthesize some of them, and it was published in the British newspapers. And so everybody became aware of our ability to synthesize insect pheromones, frontalin, various insects pheromones from various insects from sugars. And the one that is from Alabama-(unclear) I can't remember. But the use of it really killed a lot of this, the beetle, the pests that used to affect the cotton, the boll weevil. The boll weevil, was one of the things [pheromones] that we were trying to make. I don't think I mentioned that. But that was one of the first ones that we, you know, got interests in.