Edwin (Ed) Frankel (1928-2019)

The Author: Gary R. List

Edwin (Ed) Frankel was born in Egypt. He came to America as a young man and enrolled at Michigan State University where he received a BS degree in 1950. From 1950–1956, he earned MS and PhD degrees at the University of California, Davis (UCD).

He began his career as a research chemist at the Northern Regional Laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, in 1956. Here, he began his passion for lipid oxidation. From 1956–1960, Frankel published several papers including, “The Purification and Characterization of Fatty Acid Hydropeoxides.”

In 1960, he decided to take a position in industry as a group leader in the Food Products Division of Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. At Proctor and Gamble, he quickly discovered industrial research results were proprietary and publication in the open literature was discouraged. Thus, in 1962, he returned to the Northern Regional Laboratory where freedom to publish was not only encouraged but essential for upward mobility.

However, research priorities in government may change from basic to applied or from edible to industrial utilization of edible fats and oils. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) believed research should be redirected to industrial applications rather than edible uses. Thus, Frankel’s interest in lipid oxidation was temporarily put on hold. By 1976, his research on the modification of fatty acids included an oxo process for hydroformylation of fatty acids with a rhodium catalyst. Exotic hydrogenation catalysts were developed and explored for fatty acid modification.

What goes around, comes around. After a productive redirection, Frankel was free to return to lipid oxidation research. From 1976 until his retirement from the USDA in 1989, Frankel and his research group made numerous contributions to our understanding of hydroperoxide breakdown and their products.

After a long and productive career in government and industry, Frankel continued with a third career in academia by accepting a position as an adjunct professor in the Department Food Science and Technology at UCD. Here he was able to pursue his love of oxidation. Ed became the most highly cited author in agricultural chemistry. He published nearly 700 papers, which were cited nearly 33,500 times with exceedingly high g and h indexes. (80 and 175, respectively). These statistics equal or exceed many Nobel Laurates. Frankel’s top 10 publications have received over 11,000 citations ranging from 640–2,300.

Among his most outstanding works is the discovery that phenolic compounds in red wine inhibit oxidation of low-density lipoproteins in humans. He further characterized the principal phytochemicals in California wines responsible for their antioxidant properties. Other studies showed that green tea, berries, rosemary and certain fruits inhibit oxidation of low-density lipoproteins.

Methodology to assess oxidation in complex lipid and biological systems was a major obstacle in his research. After developing sensitive methods to determine the effectiveness of antioxidants, a seminal publication showed that oxidation in bulk oils and lipid emulsions proceed by different mechanisms, according to their hydrophilic or lipophilic character. This discovery led to the concept of interfacial oxidation in which the interaction of antioxidants and lipids in emulsions has a profound effect on the stability of foods where antioxidants and prooxidants are distributed differently in colloidal systems. This pioneering work opened a new field in oxidation research.

Frankel authored several reviews on lipid oxidation as well as the book Lipid Oxidation (1998, 2nd Edition, 2005). In 2007, Antioxidants in Food and Biology: Facts and Fiction was published. One reviewer commented, “This is a well written and informative text written by one of the top investigators in the field of lipid oxidation. It would be a nice addition to any food scientist’s library especially those scientists with a substantial interest in lipid oxidation.”

In addition to research, Frankel taught a number of graduate courses on food chemistry and oxidation. For many years, AOCS held short courses organized by Frankel at which he presented lectures. He was also been invited to give lectures in Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and England.

Frankel received numerous honors and awards from both the USDA and various technical societies. His AOCS awards include the AOCS Fellow Award (initial class, 1998), Alton E. Bailey Award (1985), Stephen S. Chang Award (1999 ) and Supelco AOCS Research Award (formerly the Supelco/Nicholas Pelick–AOCS Award Research Award; 2007). International recognition came from The Society of Chemical Industry (UK) and The Finnish Chemical Society where he was the keynote speaker in 1992. In 1990, he was the International lecturer at the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) in London. The SCI further honored him with the Lewkowitch Lecture in 2002. The German Fat Society (DGF) honored him with the Kaufmann Memorial Lecture at the world congress held in the Hague, The Netherlands (1995).

In 2006, the AOCS Lipid Oxidation and Quality Division held a symposium in honor of Frankel’s 50-year career in lipid oxidation. The Division announced an award for best paper published in the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society (JAOCS) and Lipids named in Frankel’s honor. Now his work is annually remembered with the “Edwin Frankel Best Paper Award.”

In 1980, the fats and oils group at the Northern Regional Laboratory was reorganized due to retirements. My new supervisor was Ed Frankel. He could be difficult at times but was not a micro manager and gave subordinates considerable freedom to carry out their assigned research. The new supervisor came at a key time during my career. To be evaluated for promotion, a detailed write up was submitted to a peer panel and Ed generously read mine over and made numerous suggestions to improve it. Much to my surprise his edits were very helpful, and I was promoted to senior scientist.

Frankel was an out of the box thinker who believed the literature contains much unchallenged dogma. As such, a researcher must critically look at other approaches to problem solving. This can be achieved by becoming familiar with the existing open and patent literature. Failure to do so results in duplication of results and low-quality papers having little new information or novelty.

He believed young scientists should strive for quality rather than quantity when publishing their research findings. Of course, advancement in academia and government depends largely on numbers of peer-reviewed journal articles rather than impact.

Ed and his wife, Barbara, recently celebrated 69 years of marriage. They are parents of five children and five grandchildren.

Significant Publications of Edwin Frankel

Interfacial lipid oxidation and antioxidation, Frankel, E.N., J. Oleo Sci. 50: 387–391, 2001.

Activities of antioxidants are affected by colloidal properties of oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and bulk oils, Schwarz, K., et al., J. Agric. Food Chem. 48: 4874–4882, 2000.

Principal phenolic phytochemicals in selected California wines and their antioxidant activity in inhibiting oxidation of human low-density lipoproteins, Frankel, E.N, et al., J. Agric. Food Chem. 43: 890–894, 1995.

Inhibition of oxidation of human low-density lipoprotein by phenolic substances in red wine, Frankel, E.N, et al., Lancet 341: 454–457, 1993.