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Forester News

Martin Endowed Scholarship for chemistry, physics established

Former students of “Doc Martin” recall his unflappable commitment to science and tireless dedication to progress. His passion for the field of chemistry and love of teaching have guided countless students to become successful professional chemists and physicians.

William B. Martin, Deane Professor of Biochemical and Biological Sciences, Emeritus, graduated from Franklin & Marshall College, with time served in the US Navy during World War II, and moved on to Northwestern University, where he earned a PhD. The basis of his published thesis, a mechanism of the side-reaction of the Williamson-ether synthesis, was a staple of his organic chemistry class. He began his chemistry career at Abbott Laboratories, where his research led to the development of a drug—an acetylenic amine—that had a mood-elevating effect, as well as positive effects on the cardiovascular system, and was sold on the pharmaceutical market. But an opportunity to teach and guide students to the same chemical discoveries that first excited him lured the professor at heart to Lake Forest College.

Martin was one of the first College science professors to introduce “hands-on chemistry.” The classroom and textbook were important, but working in the lab to generate ideas and allow students to solve problems independently was integral to their scientific development. There were, however, few resources to support this format in 1961, when Martin arrived at the College, as the Johnson Science Center was still under construction. So, he got creative: student research was conducted in a “boarding house” on campus. The house’s kitchen was commandeered and outfitted with cast-off lab materials donated by Abbott. He installed benches, a hood, and a sink with a gas hook-up, and his first student chemists got to work, blowing chemical fumes out into the ravine behind the house. It’s hard to imagine this make-shift chemistry lab as today’s students benefit from the state-of-the-art Lillard Science Center, but many successful chemistry graduates can claim this as their beginning. Every summer during his teaching career, Martin led a group of students in undergraduate research. Many capped this experience with a research thesis.

This determination and passion to chemistry and teaching fueled his career at the College for over 50 years.

No one understood Martin’s drive or dedication better than fellow chemist and wife, Dr. Yvonne Connolly Martin. She was the only woman chemistry/zoology major to graduate from Carleton College in 1958. Like Martin, she gravitated to Abbott Laboratories, where she met her future husband. Upon being awarded a predoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation, she enrolled in Northwestern University’s PhD program in physical biochemistry, and has been blazing a pioneering trail for women in the sciences ever since.

Later at AbbVie, Connolly Martin’s time was largely dedicated to computational chemistry—the use of computers to develop both 2D and 3D models to capture the chemical and biological properties of molecules—and its use in drug design. She created the blueprints for software packages for pharmacophore (an abstract description of molecular features that are necessary for molecular recognition), leading the way to modern day drug discovery and continued computer design of new compounds. Connolly Martin focused on identifying properties of molecules relevant to biological activity, and their potency, in the studies of many diseases, including hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, bacterial infections, arthritis, and angina.

In addition to this important research, Connolly Martin wrote or edited six books, wrote hundreds of scholarly publications, and received numerous, prestigious awards in her field. She is also one of the founders of the International Quantitative Structure Activity Relationship & Modeling Society (QSAR). A 40-year career at Abbott and AbbVie represents an incredible body of work for any scientist.

Both Martins have dedicated their lives and careers to science and progress. Their tenures and bodies of work speak for themselves, and illustrate what is possible through innovative teaching and research. Although both Martins are now retired, they remain a vital part of progress at the College. They established the Yvonne C. and William B. Martin Endowed Scholarship for chemistry and physics students, and have included the College in their planned giving strategy, supporting the College’s missions, and the future of a robust science program. “I want something to happen today that will move me along, move the school along, move my students along, and move their research along,” Martin said. “Hopefully we have a breakthrough, and then we’ll just have to make another breakthrough the next day.”

We are grateful to the Martins for their incredible work in, and dedication to, the sciences, to our students, and for ensuring there will be many future “breakthroughs.”