ISU chemistry alum, and current graduate student, earn Perkin Medal awards

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It’s perfect chemistry: an Iowa State University graduate student, chemistry’s “Ten Billion Dollar Man,” a prestigious award and one faculty mentor.

In September, Iowa State chemistry grad student Tezcan Guney will meet Bruce Roth, an ISU alumnus who is the inventor of Lipitor, the largest-selling drug in pharmaceutical history.

They’ll be in Philadelphia at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, both accepting awards for their work in chemistry. Roth, known as chemistry’s “Ten Billion Dollar Man,” will receive the 2013 Society of Chemical Industry Perkin Medal, widely acknowledged as the highest honor given for outstanding work in industrial chemistry in the United States.

Tezcan Guney (left), a graduate student in chemistry, and his research instructor, George Kraus, in a Hach Hall lab. Kraus also taught Bruce Roth, who was awarded the 2013 Perkin Medal.

Guney will receive the student award to the Perkin Medal, as selected by Roth and faculty in the Iowa State Chemistry Department. Guney also will receive $5,000.

The two have more in common than their chemical accomplishments. Although there was a 30-year difference in their time at Iowa State, Roth studied under the same chemistry professor as Guney does now, George Kraus.

“The two certainly have some similar traits,” Kraus, a University Professor, said of Roth and Guney. “I remember Bruce had a lot of enthusiasm. He was very smart, and he had a lot of energy to learn more things and do more things.

“Guney also shows a lot of enthusiasm in the lab. He’s a sharp student, and works very effectively, as a co-worker and a co-thinker, which is a good sign of a strong chemist.”

Coming to the Midwest Roth, who grew up in Philadelphia and earned his undergraduate degree from the nearby St. Joseph’s College in 1976, had been encouraged by his chemistry professor to consider graduate school in the Midwest.

“When I looked at Iowa State, it had a great reputation in organic chemistry and a strong faculty,” Roth said. “When I was accepted, I decided to go, even though Iowa was a place I knew little about. The shock of coming from city life in Philadelphia to Ames was great, but it was a great place to go to graduate school.”

Another newbie in the chemistry department in 1976 was Kraus, who had just joined the faculty.

“George Kraus was one of the first people on campus I came into contact with,” said Roth, who is the Senior Director of Discovery Chemistry at Genentech in San Francisco. “He was in the lab with us all the time, and was able to show us how to be effective in developing skills in the lab. He was a tremendous mentor for me.”

Guney traveled even further to attend Iowa State, lured by the same qualities Roth saw. After earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry summa cum laude at Sakarya University near Istanbul, he looked into ISU after a few of his professors recommended it.

“One of my biggest influences [for choosing ISU] was Dr. Kraus,” Guney said. “I feel really fortunate to work with him. He provides many avenues with group meetings and individualized support to increase my critical problem solving process.”

Earning the student Perkin Medal Award After Bruce Roth was named the recipient of this year’s Perkin Medal, it was up to him to help select a student for the $5,000 award associated with the medal. Roth could have chosen any university, however, he said choosing Iowa State was an easy decision.

“ISU made the most sense, as that is where I earned my graduate degree,” he said. “It was absolutely the best choice for the award.”

He asked the Department of Chemistry to make the final decision, which chose Tezcan Guney.

“I was really excited to hear that I had been selected as the recipient of this award because I know I was competing with many qualified candidates,” Guney said. “I was happy to receive some recognition for my hard work and to get an opportunity to meet Dr. Bruce Roth, a chemist who I admire since he has so many successful accomplishments and has really made an impact not only in chemistry, but for society as a whole.”

Kraus said Tezcan has been very productive the past few years. He spent a summer working in industry and managed to get two patents. The internship opportunity became possible when he presented some of his graduate work at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting that caught the attention of high-level Exxon Mobil project leaders. Those researchers immediately invited him to New Jersey to work on other challenging projects, including working with the ionic liquids he had been fostering in the Iowa State chemistry lab.

Right now, he’s working on creating new methodologies in two areas: biorenewable chemicals, and total synthesis of a natural product. The first, which focuses on the increased demand but decreasing supply of petroleum, is a project seed-funded by the National Science Foundation. Guney is working with other chemists and engineers to create both commodity and specialty chemicals from biorenewable feedstocks.

Guney’s passion lies in the second area of research, which focuses on creating new reactions for biologically active natural products that could potentially become an “anti-cancer” agent. He is also working with a small business in the Ames area.

“We’re very excited about him,” Kraus said. “He’s certainly going to go far.”

The rise of Roth Roth, who earned his Ph.D in organic chemistry at Iowa State in 1981, has held many leadership roles in the medicinal chemistry industry since graduating. He first synthesized atorvastatin, better known as Lipitor, in 1985, which earned him several prestigious awards, including the 1997 Warner-Lambert Chairman’s Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award, the 1999 Inventor of the Year Award from the New York Intellectual Property Law Association, the 2005 Iowa State University Distinguished Alumni Award, and the 2006 Pfizer Global Research and Development Achievement Award.

In addition to synthesizing atorvastatin, he is named as an inventor or co-inventor on 42 patents.

In 2008, ACS named him a Hero of Chemistry.

Still, his most recent award humbles him.

“It’s a shock. An absolute shock,” Roth said. “To look at the chemists who have earned this award before me, it’s an absolute honor. I look at the other chemists on that list, such as Herbert Boyer, and I just don’t put myself in the same category as him.”

Roth, who will not meet Guney until the Sept. 17 award reception, said he is proud of his accomplishments.

“He’s clearly a bright young man who has a passion and a talent for chemistry. I’m excited to meet him and congratulate him on his successes, and his undoubted future success,” he said.

“I look forward to congratulating Dr. Roth in person on his many career achievements,” Guney said of meeting Roth. “I am especially excited to discuss the new developments in organic chemistry in the pharmaceutical industry, and hear his perspective on the future of the field based on his extensive experience.”

The continuous integrity of Iowa State’s chemistry program “The awards and the great chemists who come out of Iowa State’s program certainly show that we have a continual succession of excellent students in the department,” Kraus said. “Tezcan isn’t the only one. Over the years I have worked with many great students and they have all gone off in different directions, and are all doing quite well. It speaks very well for the department and for our faculty.”

Roth praises both his St. Joseph professor and Kraus for fueling his enthusiasm in chemistry.

“I have been blessed to have many aspiring mentors throughout my career,” he said. “George really built enthusiasm and had a real love of the art of chemistry. I can only imagine the ways he inspires his current students.” -30-

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Jess Knight, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communications, (515) 294-9906 ( George Kraus, Chemistry, (515) 294-7794 ( Tezcan Guney, Chemistry (