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Queen’s remembers Professor Emeritus Victor Snieckus

Victor Snieckus
Emeritus Bader Chair of Chemistry Victor Snieckus

The Queen’s community is remembering Victor Snieckus, Emeritus Bader Chair of Chemistry and one of the most internationally-respected synthetic organic chemists in the world, who died Dec. 18 at the age of 83.

Dr. Snieckus was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and spent his childhood in Germany during the Second World War before immigrating to Alberta with his parents in 1948. He obtained a BSc in chemistry at the University of Alberta in 1959 followed by an MSc from the University of California, Berkeley (1961), and a PhD from the University of Oregon (1965). Following a post-doctoral position at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa (1965-1966), Dr. Snieckus joined the University of Waterloo as an assistant professor in 1967. He would become a full professor of chemistry (1979-1992) and then the Monsanto/NRC Industrial, Research Chair (1992-1998). In 1998 he joined Queen’s University as the inaugural holder of the prestigious Bader Chair of Chemistry.

Dr. Snieckus became a household name among chemists worldwide due to his fundamental contributions to organo-lithium chemistry and the DOM (directed ortho-metalation) reactions that he and his group pioneered. Research conducted in his laboratories and his consulting with various pharmaceutical industries led to the commercially important anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex and to Silthiofam, a unique fungicide for eradication of the TAKE-ALL fungus which is in use worldwide.

That work, and other contributions, led to nearly 300 highly-cited publications, 58 international and national fellowships and awards, 249 special and plenary lectureships, and 446 invited presentations around the world.

Dr. Snieckus’ lasting enthusiasm for discovery and chemistry is best observed in the hundreds of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral researchers who have been mentored in his labs, many of whom have gone on to significant careers of their own in academia and industry. His incredible passion for science is remembered in his interest in talking about science with anyone, from undergraduates to Nobel Laureates.

Andrew Evans, the current Bader Chair in Organic Chemistry, says of his predecessor: “Vic had more passion for life and chemistry than most people half his age – his enthusiasm for both was infectious to anyone that entered his sphere of influence. His work on Directed Ortho-Lithiation provided a new paradigm for the selective and systematic functionalization of aromatic and heteroaromatic systems, which undoubtedly inspired many of the recent developments in the related directed metal-catalyzed C-H activation reactions. As anyone that has met Vic can confirm, his passion for chemistry was only occasionally eclipsed by his other passion, which was the initiation of chemists of all ages into the savage mental game of Cardinal Puff. He was indeed a Man for All Seasons and a giant in the field of organic chemistry. Saying he will be missed does not do justice to who he was and what he contributed.”

Dr. Snieckus and his research were featured in a 2019 Queen’s Alumni Review article.