May 17 Celebration Symposium Honors Professor Hans Reich

Professor Hans Reich
Professor Hans Reich

On May 17, the Department of Chemistry will host a special symposium and retirement celebration in honor of Professor Hans Reich. The day will include lectures and presentations, as well as an evening banquet with faculty, students, alumni and friends. More information about the event is available at reichsymposium.chem.wisc.edu.

Reich retired in January 2014, after 43 years with the department. Since he began his independent career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970, Reich has built a lasting legacy among his colleagues and students. Early in his career, his group investigated synthetic applications of selenium chemistry and then transitioned to studying organo-silicon compounds. For the last 15 years, Reich has focused on the study of lithium carbanions, including the ways in which variations in structure and aggregation state influence reactivity.   

In the narrow space leading to his office, Reich displays a colorful array of bound Ph.D. theses from his former graduate students. The author of the first volume, Dr. Jim Renga (Ph.D. ’75, Reich), recalls that Reich was a hands-on mentor and often worked in the lab.      

“He taught me the importance of doing quality research on relevant problems.” Renga says, “This lesson has served me well in my career in both discovery and process research.”

Another former Reich graduate student, Dr. Amanda Jones (Ph.D. ’07) is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University. She describes Reich as a mentor who “maintains extraordinarily high standards for his students and expects the utmost attention to detail. His students learn to be conscientious and thoughtful scientists.”

Among his colleagues, Reich is esteemed for being thoughtful, analytical, and fair. He has garnered respect for his commitment to fundamental science and his ability to attack challenging problems in creative and enlightening ways. Reich was associate chair of the chemistry department for a number of years, and also served twice as director of the Chemistry Instrumentation Center.  

Among the faculty, Reich is seen as a source of insight and wisdom. “I always felt safe asking Hans questions,” Professor Samuel Gellman says. “He wasn’t judgmental, even though he knew basically everything.”   

In 2012, Reich was awarded the James Flack Norris Award—a top honor in the field of physical organic chemistry. He has also received the Arfvedson-Schlenck Prize in Lithium Chemistry from the German Chemistry Society. In addition to his major scholarly awards, Reich is a recipient of the department’s James W. Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award.

He is renowned for teaching “Structure Determination Using Spectroscopic Methods,” a graduate-level class that focuses on the interpretation of NMR spectra of organic compounds.

“The students who take that class have a unique insight in terms of interpreting NMR data,” Gellman says. “[Reich] has trained thousands of organic chemists in this way.”

Reich also teaches Chemistry 547, an advanced organic chemistry class that he created for undergraduate students.  Professor Eric Strieter was once among the students in this class.  

“It was clear to everyone taking that class that he was absolutely enamored with the subject,” Strieter says. “Throughout my career, the way [Reich] thinks about organic reaction mechanisms has remained in the back of my mind. I try to be as methodical as he is in my own research.”

Professor Hans Reich Celebration Symposium
A 1977 Reich group bike trip down the Elroy-Sparta bike trail. From left: Professor Hans Reich, Marty Cohen, Marty's friend Terry, Bill Willis, Steve Peake, Pam DeLuca, Sue Wollowitz, Rick Olson, Ieva Reich. Photo courtesy of Hans Reich. 

Story by Grace Pham, communications project assistant