Professor Emeritus Jim Hendrickson, Chemistry

April 2, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share the delayed sad news of the passing on December 11, 2018 of Professor Emeritus James (Jim) Briggs Hendrickson of the Department of Chemistry at the age of 90. He was preceded in death by his wife of more than 60 years, Sybil Pardee Hendrickson. He is survived by his son Jared Jeffrey Hendrickson and grandson Django Hendrickson of Lewes, England, and his daughter Sonia Catherine Angell Hendrickson of Lexington, Kentucky. 

Jim Hendrickson was born on January 3, 1928 in Toledo, Ohio, where he spent most of his youth. He began his undergraduate education at Caltech in 1944 but chose to interrupt his studies with a two-year stint with the US Army in Korea (1946-1948). Returning to Caltech, Hendrickson received his BS in chemistry in 1950 and thereafter joined Woodward’s group at Harvard for his graduate studies, receiving a Master of Arts degree in 1951 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1955. Awarded a National Research Council Fellowship to pursue post-doctoral studies, he spent a year with Sir Derek Barton at the University of London before taking up positions first as assistant professor, then as associate professor of chemistry at UCLA (1957-1963). At the invitation of Department Chair Saul Cohen, Hendrickson joined the Brandeis Chemistry faculty in 1963 as tenured associate professor and was promoted to full professor in 1966. He was a Sloan Fellow from 1964-1966, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and was a Fulbright professor at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana from 1974-1976. He held the Henry F. Fischbach Chair of Chemistry at Brandeis from 1989 until his retirement in 2005.

Jim Hendrickson was a pioneer in the development of the theory and logic of organic synthesis, a field that many practitioners at the time considered as much an art as a science. He published a series of important papers in the 1970s laying down this logic, for example organizing and predicting all possible six electron pericyclic reactions. This approach led to the development of a very early computer program for synthesis design, SYNGEN, as well as one for reaction searching, Webreactions.  His approach is encapsulated in the conclusion to his 1986 Accounts of Chemical Research overview: “… our goal is not to replace "art in organic synthesis", but to provide standards of comparison against which true art will be more clearly seen." The importance of his seminal work in this area has been increasingly recognized in the past decade. At a symposium in his honor at the 2011 ACS national meeting in Anaheim, CA, organic chemistry luminaries such as Guenter Grethe, Paul Wender and Philip Baran paid tribute to Hendrickson’s logical approach to synthesis design and organic reactions, and how it impacted their own research. Jim was also a pioneer in developing methods for conformational analysis publishing several important papers on ring conformation in the 1960s.

In his laboratory research, Hendrickson was one of the first to see the value of the trifluoromethylsulfonyl (trifyl) group, developing two "Hendrickson reagents" N-phenylbis (trifluoromethylsulfonimide) (PhNTf2) and the POP dehydrating reagent prepared from Ph3PO and triflic anhydride that are widely used.  He also developed several useful new methods for ring formation using pericyclic reactions.  His many PhD students include Professors Robert Boeckman (Rochester), Raymond Bergeron (Florida), and Ronald Parry (Rice). 

Hendrickson wrote two texts on natural products including the Molecules of Nature, a short introduction to secondary metabolism for organic chemists.  He is best known for his work as a co–author of the pioneering Organic Chemistry by Hendrickson, Cram and Hammond that was one of the first textbooks to take a mechanistic approach to the field rather than simply presenting material to be memorized.  His organic chemistry lectures were memorable.  Using colored chalk he laid out the material elegantly without erasing; at the end of the lecture the board contained the entire lecture lucidly presented. 

Jim was a valued member of the Brandeis community over many decades and will be greatly missed. I want to thank Brandeis Professor Barry Snider, Jim’s former Brandeis doctoral student Martin Walker (now Professor of Chemistry at SUNY Potsdam), and Jim’s family friend Jane Gale for the material in this note. 


Lisa M. Lynch