Dr H. Dupont Durst
LSU BS ’65; MS ‘67
PhD University of Minnesota, 1970
LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction, 2018
H. Dupont Durst received his BS from LSU in 1965, engaging in undergraduate research, with Professor Bill Patrick, on the inorganic chemistry of soils. Durst describes “Dr Pat” as an “incredible man and a tremendous mentor.” Durst went on to earn an MS in Biochemistry at LSU, completing a thesis under the direction of Gerald Risinger, “On the Mechanism of the Thiamine Catalyzed Reductive Dimerization of Farnesyl Pyrophosphate to Squalene.” As a graduate student in the laboratory of Edward Leete at the University of Minnesota, he investigated the biosynthesis of terpenoids and alkaloids, including the synthesis of isotopically labeled intermediates. In collaboration with Richard Borch, he introduced the cyanoborohyride anion as a reducing agent and demonstrated the dependence of functional group selectivity on pH. Indeed, a 1971 paper remains one of his most highly cited: “The Cyanoborohydridoborate Anion as a Selective Reducing Agent” (with Borch and Bernstein, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1971, 93, 2897-2904). Durst received his PhD in 1970.
Following formal retirement in 2015, Dupont Durst has taken a renewed interest in his alma mater. In 2017-18, he is serving as the external member of the search committee for an endowed chair. As the Department of Chemistry reviews the content and delivery of its laboratory courses, Durst has shown a genuine interest. Dupont Durst is a distinguished scientist, educator and good citizen who has served with distinction on the international platform; a strong ambassador of LSU and the USA. He is an alumnus of the College of Science of whom we can be enormously proud. To read more about his varied and distinguished career, follow the links below.
Read more about the 2018 College of Science Hall of Distinction
In 1970, Durst began his independent career as a faculty member at SUNY Buffalo, where he remained throughout the 1970s. He developed new methods for a number of “difficult” synthetic transformations, cleverly utilizing phase transfer catalysis to enable bimolecular transformations in organic solvents. He began a long-term collaboration with George Gokel (then at Penn State) on the chemistry of crown ethers and phase transfer catalysis. From 1979-84, he was a faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, where research interests expanded to include the isolation and structure determination of marine natural products, including toxins associated with seafood poisoning. A broad knowledge and a thirst to solve real-world problems led to many collaborations with leaders in their fields. The names that appear as co-authors on Durst’s 150+ peer-reviewed publications and technical reports read like a “Who’s Who” of leaders in their fields, including Donald Tomalia (dendrimers), Alan Katritzky (iodoso- and other organic compounds featuring heteroatoms) and Fred Menger (ester hydrolysis in micelles).
Dr Durst describes one of his passions as Chemical Education, especially the teaching of laboratory skills, and he tracks this interest back to his days at LSU. With George Gokel (now at the University of Missouri at Saint Louis, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Nanoscience) he co-authored the textbook “Experimental Organic Chemistry” (published in 1980 and the 2nd edition in 1987). In the preface to the second edition, Durst (and Gokel) advocate the “investigative approach,” i.e., helping students to conduct experiments in the vein of a researcher, not a recipe-follower. This was a radical approach for the time. The role of spectroscopy in the organic lab was deemed integral. Safety and budget were also high on the list of priorities, in terms of experiment choice and design.
Always a strong proponent of qualitative organic chemistry, following the standard two-part sequence, Dr Durst introduced a third part for chemistry majors at SUNY-Buffalo, dubbed “Qualitative Organic and Spectroscopy.” In this lab-intensive course, students were given a series of “unknowns” at the beginning of the semester. Some of these substances were complex mixtures, requiring purification prior to identification via classical chemical procedures. Hands-on infrared spectroscopy was available to the students, along with a limited number of “coupons” to have NMR and mass spectrometry analyses run. Just like the real world, if they submitted an impure sample, they got poor quality data. The course taught students to solve problems and make judicious choices with the resources available.
In 1984, Durst’s career took an unconventional turn when he joined the Chemical Methodology Team, Chemical Sciences, Research and Technology Directorate at the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) located at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. There he continued the theme of method development, now for the rapid hydrolysis and/or oxidation of chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and other toxic materials. His expertise expanded to include the chemical reactivity of organo-phosphorus compounds and other classes of molecules of specific interest to the military. A highly cited paper that bridges the two phases of his career – “Inactivation of Organophosphorus Nerve Agents by a Phosphotriesterase from Pseudomonas diminuta” (with Dumas, Landis, Raushell and Wild, Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 1990, 277, 155-159).
Taking his penchant for qualitative organic analysis in a new direction he became engaged in “ultra trace” analysis. The detection of organic materials, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the environment was important vis-à-vis chemical warfare agents. The holy grail was “real-time” analysis of toxic vapors and protocols for their destruction. In 2005, Cody, Laramée and Durst published a paper titled, “Versatile New Ion Source for the Analysis of Materials in Open Air Under Ambient Conditions” (Anal. Chem. 2005, 77, 2297-2302). The paper has been cited 1,212 times.* The technology was licensed to JEOL, USA Inc. and became Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART®). In 2005, DART® received a Pittcon® Editors’ Gold Award for “Best New Product” and JEOL, USA Inc. received a prestigious R&D100 award. The citation described the technique as, “an ion source for non-contact analysis of materials in open air, under ambient conditions, and at ground potential.” Requiring no vacuum chamber, carrier gas or solvent, the sample is “placed infront of the device and the analysis is shown immediately on a computer display.” Another highly cited paper, “Quantitation of chemical warfare agents using the direct analysis in real time (DART) technique” followed (Nilles, J. M.; Connell, T. R.; Durst, H. D. Anal. Chem. 2009, 81, 6744-6749). Durst describes DART as “a good example of a military problem driving the development of new technology which then has extreme importance in the technical transfer to the civilian world.”
In the 1990s, at ECBC, Durst became engaged in chemical demilitarization. He was appointed the technical lead for the bilateral Russian American Joint Evaluation Program (RAJEP), assessing the Russian Federation Chemical Neutralization Systems, as a prerequisite to the US affording financial support to Russia in the context of the Nunn/Lugar program. His efforts vindicated the Russian Federation Systems and his efficacy in this role led to his appointment to the Non-Stockpile Program, where he became engaged in the establishment of neutralization chemistries to address chemical weapons materials discovered under US jurisdictions. He went on to contribute to the coordination of the “Agent Fate” program that documented real world observations of chemical warfare agents (CWA). The “ground truth” baseline was established by the release of CWA in outdoor experiments, followed by duplication of the observed behavior in an indoor laboratory. The experiments were geared to determine when decontamination ought to be initiated. Documentation was produced that details the fate of CWA in realistic environmental milieux. Ongoing work in this area follows the “Durst approach” of using trace analysis in methods to identify and track CWA and their decontamination under operationally relevant conditions.
During his career at ECBC, Durst was a National Research Council Fellow and an Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) and of Marine Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico. He was a charter member of the IUPAC Committee on Chemical Weapons Destruction Technology.
Profile contributed by Carol M. Taylor