Remembering Professor François Diederich (1952-2020)

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We are sad to report that UCLA postdoc alum and former faculty member Professor François Diederich (ETH Zürich) passed away on September 23. 

A well-known organic chemist, with research interests including molecular recognition in chemistry and biology, modern medicinal chemistry, supramolecular nanosystems, and carbon-rich materials, Diederich will be remembered throughout the scientific community as dedicated mentor and brilliant teacher. 

Diederich was a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA with Professor Orville Chapman from 1979 to 1981. (He is pictured below in the Young Hall library from the 1980’s.)  After conducting research at the Max-Planck-Institute in Germany, Diederich returned to UCLA in 1985 to join the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry as a professor of organic chemistry. In 1992, he left UCLA to take a position as a professor of organic chemistry at ETH Zürich. He returned to UCLA several times since then to give lectures and to collaborate with chemistry & biochemistry faculty. Last April, Diederich, accompanied by his wife Georgine Diederich, visited UCLA to give the 2019 Orville L. Chapman Lecture.

Professor Ken Houk and Nobel Laureate Sir J. Fraser Stoddart honored Diederich in a retrospective titled “François N Diederich: Pioneer of Carbon Allotropes and Molecular Recognition” published in the December 29, 2020 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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At his 2015 Distinguished Lecture at UCLA – Professor François Diederich and his wife Georgine.  In 2019, Diederich visited UCLA and signed a manuscript (shown) that Gina Lee, Katherine Bay, and Professor Ken Houk (shown right to left with Diederich) published in an issue of Helvetica Chemica Acta, the journal of the Swiss Chemical Society. 

“François and I joined UCLA at the same time, and being a colleague and friend was indescribable! We published six  papers together at UCLA and four more over our careers, each an adventure in chemistry together. He was so alive, full of enthusiasm, and with great insights and overwhelming drive to succeed,” Professor Ken Houk recalls. “He made Kekulene – an amazing hydrocarbon with 12 fused benzene rings in a circle, he and Yves Rubin mastered and extended the organic chemistry of fullerenes right at the beginning of the C60 era, he did quantitative measures of host-guest complexes and created his own hosts. He broke the hearts of me and our colleagues, when he got the “call” from the ETH-Zurich, his dream position (I was the Chair when we lost him), but his chemistry got better and better, he maintained his love of UCLA and returned to us often, and he made a mark on the world of chemistry that will never be forgotten. We all miss him so.”

Diederich Francois 1980s 0“The world has lost one of the most amazing, enthusiastic, and caring scientists. François inspired me to work on molecules that no one else would have ever touched! He will be sorely missed,” said Professor Yves Rubin, one of Diederich’s first Ph.D. students at UCLA, who is now a member of the UCLA organic chemistry faculty.

In June 2019, Houk and Rubin spoke at the International François Diederich Farewell Symposium, which was held to honor Diederich upon his retirement from ETH Zürich. 

The Democratic nominee for Congress in New York’s First Congressional District, Stony Brook University professor Dr. Nancy Goroff (Ph.D. ’94), was also one of Diederich’s Ph.D. students at UCLA, and did some classic work on C18, a carbon allotrope that Yves Rubin made as a graduate student in Diederich’s group.  

“François was a close friend,” said Nobel Laureate and UCLA Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Sir Fraser Stoddart. “He helped Norma and I with our transition from Birmingham in 1997 to UCLA which he had left only a few years earlier yet continued to visit frequently with his family for many years. There was no one in my big circle of friends in the chemistry community quite like François. He bubbled over with enthusiasm when it came to his love of chemistry and his family. Then, there was that unique twinkle in his eye when he was sharing a little secret with you or telling a joke to a larger audience. I will miss him greatly and many like me will miss him in that same vein as well.”

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,