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Morken Named Vanderslice Professor of Chemistry

James Morken (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: May 8, 2014

James P. Morken, whose research pursues new methods of chemical synthesis, has been named the Louise and James Vanderslice and Family Professor of Chemistry at Boston College.

Morken, who holds a doctorate from BC, has been a faculty member at the University since 2006. The inaugural holder of the chair, Professor Larry Scott, retires at the close of the academic year.

Morken said he’s grateful to the Vanderslice family for its support of the endowed professorship and the Chemistry Department.

“This is a tremendous honor not only for me, but for my group of students,” said Morken. “I am grateful to the Vanderslice family for their generosity. These positions are tremendously important and are one of the things that have enabled BC to become one of the leading institutions in the country.”

Receiving his doctorate from BC in 1995, Morken was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard and then joined the University of North Carolina faculty. After nine years at UNC, he eagerly returned to BC.

“I always wished I could be back here,” said Morken. “I loved the institution. It’s a fantastic chemistry department and I always had my eye on it from afar. The more time I spent elsewhere, the more I realized what a special place BC is. The whole institution is a spectacular place.”

Morken teaches freshman honors chemistry and supervises a research lab that comprises 14 graduate students, two undergraduates and one post-doctoral researcher. His research has been supported by $2.4 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Chemistry Department Chairman Amir Hoveyda, who was Morken’s faculty advisor during his time as a graduate student, said the professorship is fitting recognition of Morken’s work as a researcher and teacher.

“Jim’s appointment as the Louise and James Vanderslice and Family Professor of Chemistry is a most deserved recognition of his significant contributions to teaching and research of chemistry at the highest level,” said Hoveyda. “I cannot think of an individual better able to continue the tradition of excellence established by the inaugural holder of this chair, Professor Larry Scott.”

Morken said Scott set extremely high standards for research excellence as the Vanderslice Professor.

“It’s an honor to take up the example set by Larry,” said Morken. “Those are big shoes to fill.”

The endowed professorship will provide support for teaching and research initiatives, Morken said. His major research initiatives, which have led to reports in prestigious scientific journals such as Nature, are focused on developing new catalysts to support the next generation of pharmaceutical discoveries.

“The main goal of our research is to develop new and more efficient ways to make human therapeutics,” Morken said.