“Not everybody gets to say that they worked with a Nobel Prize winner,” said Michael Plante M ’75. He is one of more than a dozen chemistry students of Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Augustine Silveira from the 1970s to 1990s who can say just that.
When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Oct. 6 that Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi and two colleagues had won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, excitement surged through the network of Oswego alumni around the country.
Silveira began collaborating with Negishi, now the Herbert C. Brown distinguished professor of organic chemistry at Purdue University, in the early 1970s when the 2010 Nobel laureate was an assistant professor at Syracuse University and Silveira was an associate professor at Oswego.
They both engaged their students in their collaborative projects and co-authored papers with them that became part of the overall package that the Nobel honored, Silveira said.
Their research involved using the metallic element palladium as a catalyst to synthesize complex carbon-based molecules. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences called that “one of the most sophisticated tools available to chemists today and one that is used by researchers worldwide and in commercial production of pharmaceuticals and molecules used to make electronics.”
Plante was the second Oswego student working with Silveira who collaborated with Negishi. He said he was particularly thrilled by the Nobel news because he saw an interview in which Negishi said the award was based on a core of research done from 1976 to 1978. Plante is the co-author — with Negishi, Silveira and K. W. Chiu — of a paper that came out in 1976 in the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry.
Silveira and Negishi’s collaboration extended for more than 20 years, involved Silveira’s students at Oswego and Negishi’s students and post-doctoral fellows at Syracuse and Purdue universities, led to at least 11 jointly authored research publications and contributed to many more.
Silveira himself was the recipient of more than 50 national awards in recognition of his chemistry teaching and research work with his students and his community service during his 38-year career at Oswego.
Silveira and Negishi last co-authored a paper in 1996 and have stayed in touch since Silveira’s retirement in 2000.
In March 2010, Negishi received the American Chemical Society award recognizing creative work in synthetic organic chemistry at the national ACS meeting in San Francisco. Silveira attended the dinner to celebrate the occasion and said he was pleased to see many Oswego students cited and acknowledged for their work.
“I cherish our friendship of many years,” Silveira said of Negishi.