AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry

The AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry - Part One: 1964 to 1981

Nicholas Pelick

The concept of an achievement award for lipid chemistry was first proposed by Dr. Arthur Rose of Applied Science Laboratories in the early 1960’s and was approved by the AOCS governing board in 1963. However, the genesis can be traced to the education committee consisting of Nick Pelick, Noel Khurt and George Rouser. They reasoned that if AOCS was to become a society where lipid chemists could gather, then an award for important work would be highly desirable. Nick Pelick had the job of convincing Arthur Rose, president of Applied Science Laboratories, that a corporate sponsor would benefit both Applied Science and AOCS. Nick arranged for Arthur Rose to present the first award at a short course held at Penn State University.

First awarded in 1964, the award was designated The AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry and remained so until 1982 when Supelco Inc. assumed sponsorship. It then became the AOCS Supelco Award in Lipid Chemistry. Finally in 1997, Nick Pelick, President of Supelco, assumed joint sponsorship and generously funded half the costs, when it was designated the AOCS Supelco/Nicholas Pelick Research Award. From an initial honorarium of $2500, the value of the award was increased to $5000 in the late 1990’s and finally to $10,000. Historically, the Awards have gone to those making substantial contributions to basic lipid science over a lifetime of research. Indeed, the Supelco/Nicholas Pelick Research Award is the most prestigious in the field of lipids. Among the recipients are three Nobel laureates, and no other lipid award can claim this distinction. It has been presented to scientists in many different disciplines, including organic chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry and nutrition.


The Awardees

vanDeenen.jpgLaurens L. M. van Deenen (1928-1994) (1981 Award) studied Chemistry at the University of Utrecht, where he was appointed to the staff in 1950, becoming a professor of biochemistry in 1959 with his own research team combining analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, lipid biochemistry and membrane biology for the study of lipids in relation to cell membrane structure and function. Over his career he published more than 300 papers. His laboratory was a mecca for post graduates and around 120 visiting scientists studied in his laboratory. As well as training some 56 graduate students, van Deenen was visiting professor at the Universities of Arizona, Guelph, Illnois and Tokyo. He received many prestigious awards and the van Deenen medal (Utrecht University) and the van Deenen lecture (ICBL) are named in his honour. van Deenen was known for his phenomenal memory. Mike Gurr recalls ‘While working in van Deenen’s laboratory in Utrecht in 1966-7, my task was to make a total chemical synthesis of a glycophospholipid of novel structure, recently isolated from Bacillus megatherium. The final stage required the removal of a certain ‘protecting group’ without allowing the molecule to fall apart. I could not find a suitably mild reaction to accomplish this task. I related this problem to Laurens on one of his regular visits to the chemistry lab. He thought hard for a few minutes and then gave me the names of several authors, a journal, year and volume number. He said he could not be precise about the page numbers but suggested a range I might try. As soon as he left, I went immediately to the library and discovered to my amazement that he had been precise on all details and that the page numbers were quite close to the range he had suggested. I should say that the paper had been published several years before this conversation!’


mead-pic.jpgJames F. Mead (1916-1987) (1980 Award) studied at Princetown University and Cal. Tech. and, shortly after, began his long association with the School of Medicine, UCLA, where he was a popular teacher. He is renowned for his work on essential fatty acids and their transformations, especially in the brain. In particular, he is best known for characterizing the unusual trienoic fatty acid that accumulated in essential fatty acid deficiency as 5,8,11-eicosatrienoic acid or 20:3(n-9). This is often given the trivial name “Mead acid” in his honour. He also pioneered the separation of plasma lipids by silicic acid chromatography. His book ‘The Unsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Health and Disease” (with Armand Fulco and published in 1976) is a classic. At the time of his final illness, he was in the process of isolating and identifying a factor in blood responsible for cachexia in cancer patients. Of the many awards he received, he was most proud of the Research Center Award of the NIH and the AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry.

chang-pic.jpgStephen S. Chang (1918-1996) (1979 Award) was a pioneer in flavor chemistry, frying oil technology and natural antioxidants. He was born in China and received all his early education there before coming to the USA in 1947 for graduate studies. After brief spells in industry working for Swift and Co and A.E. Staley Co, he moved to the Food Science Department at Rutgers University in 1960, where he eventually became full Professor and Department Head. He played a major role in expanding US soybean markets in Taiwan and mainland China through technology transfer trips made in the 1970’s. In his later years he was distinguished as a philanthropist and humanitarian, not least for endowing the AOCS Stephen S. Chang award for “significant and distinguished accomplishments in basic research that have been utilized by industries for the development or improvement of products related to lipids”. His career is described in much greater detail in an article published in INFORM, 2012 and reprinted on this website.


RalphHolman-pic.jpgRalph Holman (1918-2012) (1978 Award) had a long and distinguished career during which he made many significant discoveries in basic lipid chemistry and nutrition. These are documented in about 425 publications covering nearly 50 years. He began his scientific career in the lab of George and Mildred Burr, who discovered the essentiality of linoleic acid, and the inter-relationships of the n-6 and n-3 families of fatty acids provided the focus for much of his subsequent career. After a brief spell at Texas A & M University, he joined the staff of the Hormel Institute in Austin Minnesota in 1951. In the 1960s, he carried out a series of seminal experiments on the interrelationships between fatty acids of the two families (the true value of which did not become fully apparent or was fully recognized until many years later) in which he demonstrated the competitive nature of their interactions. In his later years, he was a powerful advocate of the value of n-3 fatty acids towards human health.

Holman received numerous awards including the Bailey Medal and AOCS Fellowship. In addition, he was awarded the AR Baldwin distinguished service award for his long service to the society. He was elected to the National Academy of Science (1981). In addition to his research and directorship of the Hormel Institute (1975-1985), Ralph Holman was the founding editor of the publications “Lipids” and “Progress in the Chemistry of Fats and Other Lipids” (later Progress in Lipid Research). His laboratory was a mecca for scientists, some of whom were also Supelco award winners, including William W. Christie, Howard Sprecher and Herbert J. Dutton (see below). The health and nutrition division of AOCS sponsors an achievement award in his honor. A tribute to Holman’s career has been published in INFORM (23 (2012) 678).


Popjak.jpgGeorge Popjàk (1914-1998) (1977 Award) was an authority on the reaction mechanisms for cholesterol biosynthesis. He began his career in medicine and received the M.D. degree. Popjàk was trained in pathology and anatomy. He left his native Hungary in 1939 and moved to the University of London. After several years as a research assistant, Popjàk joined the National Institute for Medical Research in London where his interest in biochemistry and lipid metabolism began. In the 1940s he began the study of lipid synthesis in pregnant and lactating animals through use of radioactive labeled acetate. His work in this area continued into the 1960s. Popjàk, along with Professor J.W. Cornforth, independently and then in collaboration, began their studies on the biosynthesis of cholesterol (their collaborative work was affectionately known as PopCorn!). Their approach involved radioactive atoms in well defined stereospecific positions within the various precursors. Thus, enzymology, coupled with radioactive tracers led to the elucidation of the pathways involved. Popjàk received numerous awards, including the Davy medal from the Royal Society. In 1961 he was awarded an honorary D.Sc. from the University of London and was elected to the Royal Society the same year. Popjàk authored over 230 publications including “Lipids: Chemistry, Biochemistry and Nutrition.”. Coauthors include J.F. Mead (1980 award). In accepting the Award, Popjàk commented that the society in honoring him honored his many coworkers and, without them, he couldn’t have been there. Popjàk’s interest in young scientists was duly noted by the establishment of a scholarship at UCLA bearing his name. The George Popjàk Scholar is appointed annually in the Atherosclerosis Research Unit, Department of Medicine, UCLA. A substantial account of his life and work is available online (


Historically, the Lipid Chemistry Award was given at the fall AOCS Meeting. Up until 1976, two meetings per year were held. In 1977, the format was changed to a single meeting in the spring. To have given an award in the fall of 1976 and then another in the spring of 1977 would have been a little difficult and out of cycle. Thus, there was no Award in 1976.


Lundberg-pic.jpgWalter Lundberg (1910-1985) received the 1975 award. Lundberg obtained his PhD at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1934 where his main research interest was in autoxidation. This remained a major interest, but he also made significant contributions to the preparation and properties of synthetic glycerides and nutritional lipids. His two volumes on ‘Autoxidation and Antioxidants’ (John Wiley, 1961) and his 1968 review ‘Peroxidation of Polyunsaturated Fatty Compounds (Prog. Chem. Fats and other Lipids) are considered classics. Among the contributors to the book were Sune Bergstrom (see below), Bengt Samuelsson, Al Tappel, Daniel Swern (see below) and James Mead (see above), all of whom were Award winners. Lundberg was Resident Director of the Hormel Institute in Austin, Minnesota from its foundation in 1944 until 1949 when he became executive Director until his retirement in 1974. Amongst his other honours were the Chevreul and Normann Medals from the French and German Oil Chemists, respectively


Stumpf.jpgPaul Stumpf (1919-2007) (1974 award) is often referred to as the “Father of Plant Biochemistry”. His career is reviewed on this website. The article is authored by two of his post docs who went on to have distinguished careers of their own. They point out that, at one stage, nearly everyone working in plant biochemistry had gone through his lab as a student, post doc or visiting scholar. One such scholar was John Harwood (2011 Supelco award). Harwood remarked that Paul Stumpf was a main influence in his life. Stumpf authored numerous publications (250) during his career. According to scientists who knew him best, his singular achievement was the discovery of the pathway for degrading fatty acids by alpha-oxidation. This work provided insight for a biochemical basis for a class of human genetic defects in which the body is unable to metabolize phytanic acid. However, it is also true to say that almost all the important enzymes of fatty acid formation in plants had been studied in detail in Stumpf’s lab. After his ‘retirement’, he was involved as consultant in some of the early production of transgenic oil crops at Calgene (later Monsanto) and in advising the US government.


Gunstone.jpgFrank D. Gunstone (1923-present) received the 1973 Award. He obtained his Ph.D. with Professor T.P. Hilditch in Liverpool. After a short spell in the University of Glasgow, he moved to the Chemistry Department of the University of St. Andrews, where he remained for the rest of his career. His research covers every branch of lipid chemistry including autoxidation, hydrogenation, triglyceride structure, synthesis of fatty acids and triglycerides, analytical methods and biochemistry. These are described in more than 400 publications. He continues to edit and write books on lipids as well as editing the journal Lipid Technology and making major contributions to this website. Professor Gunstone has received nearly every lipid award. In addition to the Lipid Chemistry Award, he has received the AOCS Chang, Bailey and Fellowship awards. International awards include the Chevreul Medal (French Oil Chemists), the Normann Medal and Kaufmann lecture (German Oil Chemists) and the Hilditch Memorial Lecture (Society of Chemical Industry, U.K.). Professor Gunstone has the unique distinction of having been the PhD supervisor of two other Award recipients (Marcel Lie Ken Jie, 2005; William W. Christie, 2010).


James.jpgAnthony T. James (1922-2006) received the 1972 Award. James will always be known for the invention of gas liquid chromatography (with Nobel Prize winner A.J.P. Martin), which was such a crucial component of much subsequent fatty acid and lipid research. He went on to use the technique to separate many types of volatile compounds. With fatty acids he exploited the method to study their metabolism in a wide range of organisms but especially in plants where he and his colleagues in the Unilever Laboratories made significant discoveries in terms of lipid biosynthesis and especially of how double bonds are introduced into fatty acyl chains. In addition to his duties at Unilever, he was a Professor of Industrial Chemistry at Loughborough University and he co-authored the first student text book dedicated to lipid biochemistry. His own more detailed account of his early career and in particular of the development of gas chromatography, together with a brief biography, is available on the Lipid Library website. A more comprehensive account has been published by the Royal Society (Gurr, M. Biogr. Mems. Fell. R. Soc., 58 129-150 (2012) (DOI:10.1098/rsbm.2011.0018").


Lutton-pic.jpgEdwin S. Lutton (1911-2005) was the first industrial scientist to receive the Award (1971). He received his PhD in physical chemistry from Yale in 1935, before moving to Proctor and Gamble, where he spent his entire career until retirement in 1971. Lutton was an international authority on the polymorphic crystallization of fats and oils. He studied the unique crystal polymorphism of cocoa butter and proposed the “triple chain length” structure found when alpha crystals are cooled to very low temperatures. In addition, he demonstrated that tristearin existed in three not four polymorphic forms, as had been proposed by others. He published numerous papers employing a variety of techniques including X-ray diffraction, calorimetry and dilatometry. Together with F.H. Mattson, he published a classic paper in which pancreatic lipase was used to determine the composition of position sn-2 in triacylglycerols. Lutton was a contemporary of Alton Bailey and shared mutual interest in the phase behavior of triacylglycerols. When Bailey published his book “Melting and solidification of fats”, Lutton had so much input that Bailey sent him a copy with the following note on the inside cover - "Here is the book we wrote Ed, hope you like it. A.E. Bailey”. When Lutton received the 1971 award in lipid chemistry it was said of him - “he (Lutton) has succeeded in the rare achievement of actually making practically useful and profitable developments to certain foods by applying complex theories supported by precise experimental measurements. For example, Lutton described the preparation of improved plastic shortenings from beta tending fats and oils (US Patent 2 801,177, Shortening, 1957).


Kennedy.jpgEugene P. Kennedy (1919-2011) (1970 award) was a pioneer in the biosynthesis of triacylglycerols and phospholipids. A Google author search shows that his first 20 publications have been cited over 6000 times. The paper, “The function of cytidine coenzymes in the biosynthesis of phospholipids” published in 1956 by Kennedy and Weiss, alone has received 1067 citations. So important were his discoveries that the main pathway for the production of phosphoglycerides (and triacylglycerols) is often known as the Kennedy pathway. He elucidated the main pathways involved by the elegant use of radiolabelled precursors. In particular, he discovered the importance of cytidine derivatives and went on to study many of the enzymes involved. Kennedy’s graduate studies in organic chemistry started in 1941 but during the war years he worked in a unit dealing with human blood which awakened an interest in biochemistry. He was appointed as Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in the University of Chicago in 1947, where he undertook seminal work on fatty acid oxidation. After a brief stint with Fritz Lipmann at Harvard Medical School to work on mitochondrial energetics, he returned to the University of Chicago to a joint appointment in the Ben May Laboratory for Cancer Research, where he began his groundbreaking work on phospholipid biosynthesis. He was appointed Hamilton Kuhn Professor and head of the department of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School in 1959 where he continued his pioneering work on lipid biosynthesis (


Dutton.jpgHerbert J. Dutton (1914-2006) (1969 Award) was awarded his Ph.D by the University of Wisconsin in 1940, and spend most of his research career at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, in Peoria, USA. He will be remembered for his pioneering work on the analysis of lipids, and in particular for the use of countercurrent distribution to study problems in lipid chemistry, for the use of analytical methods in tandem and for the use of computers for lipid research. With the aid of these techniques, he made important contributions to the study of flavor stability of soybean oil and to the mechanism and products of the hydrogenation of edible oils. The Herbert J. Dutton Award of the Analytical Division of AOCS for significant contributions in the analysis of oils, fats and lipids was created in his honor. An extended account of Dutton's career is featured elsewhere on the Lipid Library website.


Swern-pic.jpgDaniel Swern (1916-1982) (1968 award) was recognized for his work on organic peroxides at Temple University in Philadelphia. Bailey’s Industrial Oil and Fat Products 1st and 2nd editions were published in 1945 and1951, respectively. A third edition was needed and Swern was chosen to edit the book appearing in 1964. Swern not only edited, but contributed to nearly half of the 16 chapters. This classic book underwent a 4th revision in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s and expanded from a single volume to three. Swern edited volumes 1 and 2 but passed away before the 3rd volume appeared in 1985 (edited by Dr. Thomas Applewhite). He is remembered for discovering the Swern oxidation reaction and for developing new plastics. Thus, Swern’s experiments with polyvinyl chlorides, water-insoluble thermoplastic resins, provided the chemical key to changing hard and brittle vinyl into softer and more flexible plastics. He received numerous awards including the AOCS Bailey Award. Tom Foglia (2009 Award) obtained his Ph.D. under Swern.


Bergstrom.jpgSune Bergström (1916-2004) became the first Nobel Laureate to receive the AOCS Award (1967). He, together with Bengt Samuelsson (1985 Award) and Sir John Vane, shared the 1982 Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology for their research on prostaglandins, a group of enzymatically-formed compounds produced by the activity of cyclooxygenase on polyunsaturated fatty acids of both the omega-3 and omega-6 series. He obtained the degrees of D.Med. Sci., M.D. and Docent of Physiological Chemistry, from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden in 1944. Following various postdoctoral fellowships he moved to the University of Lund where he was Professor of Physiological Chemistry from 1947 to 1958. He was subsequently appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Karolinska Institutet where he remained until 1980. In later years, he was Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm and President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Bergström's involvement with prostaglandins started in 1945 when Ulf von Euler asked Bergström if he might be interested in studying some of his lipid extracts of sheep vesicular glands. By means of countercurrent extraction, he was able to purify the crude extract about 500 times, but there was a hiatus in the work until he was joined by a graduate student Bengt Samuelsson (1985 recipient). By 1962, they had together isolated and determined the structures of six different prostaglandins, and demonstrated their formation from fatty acid precursors. There is a brief biography in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (


carter-pic.jpgHerbert Carter (1910-2007) (1966 award) was a distinguished lipid chemist and educator. Carter did his undergraduate work at DePauw, Indiana (1930). He then took a Ph.D. under Carl Marvel (1934) at the University of Illinois. The newly formed biochemistry department at Illinois was headed by Professor William C. Rose who hired Carter as the second member of the department. Together they collaborated in the discovery of the essential amino acid threonine and its structure. Carter went on to reveal the structure of sphingosine from which he coined the term “sphingolipide” to encompass the family of lipids that includes cerebrosides, sphingomyelins and gangliosides. Further research led to the structures of dihydrosphingosine and cerebrosides and the plant analogue phytosphingosine. He was the first identify the galactosylglycerides as a new class of plant glycolipids. Carter made significant contributions to the structural knowledge of both glycolipids and antibiotics. He was elected to the National Academy of Science at the age of 43 and was the recipient of the Eli Lily award in biological chemistry. He also was an early recipient of the AOCS Bailey Award. Herb Carter served in a number of academic positions at the University of Illinois before moving to the University of Arizona to develop interdisciplinary programs. Carter’s last graduate student at Illinois was William (Bill) Lands who received the Award in 1997 and established the Herbert Carter lectures in biochemistry in honor of his mentor. There is a brief tribute in the Journal of Lipid Research (DOI: 10.1194/jlr.E800003-JLR200).


Klenk.jpgErnst Klenk (1896-1971) (1965 recipient) was born in 1896 and was considered the “Dean of Lipid Chemists” among his peers. After serving 4 years in the German army during World War One, Klenk wished to pursue a career in chemistry at Tubingen but lack of laboratory space forced a moved to the Institute of Physiological Chemistry. Under the supervision of Professor Thierfelder, Klenk was encouraged to pursue an academic career for which he was forever grateful. After Thierfelder’s death, Klenk remained at the institute to study under Franz Knoop (the discoverer of beta oxidation of fatty acids). Klenk was a pioneer in the use of liquid column chromatography for the analysis and characterization of lipids. In 1942, Klenk isolated and characterized the glycolipids known as gangliosides, which contained sialic acid residues, from ganglion cells of brain. These have since been shown to have many vital functions in animal biology. Klenk also discovered that the related lipid sphingomyelin accumulated in Niemann-Pick Disease while glucosylceramide accumulate in tissues of patients with Gaucher disease. The role of gangliosides and other sphingolipids in biochemical processes continues to be a highly researched area. A tribute was published by Hildegard Debuch in the Journal of Neurochemistry (DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.1973.tb07516.x).


ErichBaer.jpgErich Baer (1901-1975) was the initial recipient (1964). He is remembered for a simple yet elegant synthetic route to phospholipids. To arrange atoms in correct order and the proper configuration in 3 dimensional space, Baer made use of existing configurations found in sugar alcohols. These provided starting materials for synthesis of a series of phospholipids. During his long career, Baer published over a hundred papers in leading journals. Born in 1901, Baer worked for his Ph.D. under Herman Fischer initially in Berlin but from 1937 until 1948 in Toronto, Canada. One of the compounds prepared by Baer is known as the Fischer-Baer ester, which plays a central role in carbohydrate metabolism. Baer was appointed professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto in 1951 then Professor Emeritus in 1969. A symposium was planned as part of his 75th birthday celebration in March 1976. Although Baer passed away in September 1975, the symposium was held in his honor. Baer received numerous honors and awards and left a legacy of well trained chemists including Morris Kates (1984 award).


In 1982, the AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry was renamed the AOCS Supelco Award. Part 2 of the series covers the history from 1982 to 1997. In 1997, it was renamed the AOCS Supelco/Nicholas Pelick Award, and Part 3 details the awardees from 1997 onwards.

Acknowledgement: John Harwood, Bill Christie and Mike Gurr contributed to the above pen pictures of the awardees.

Updated: June 6th, 2013