Faculty and students from the University of Cambridge visited Harvard for the Herchel Smith PhD Student Symposium 2012
Harvard University’s first benefactor, John Harvard, was an alumnus of the University of Cambridge — the first of many connections between these two eminent institutions. One of the more recent connections was made by another benefactor: Herchel Smith (1925–2001), a scientist and philanthropist whose interest in underwriting top-tier research in the life sciences has resulted in a premier graduate fellowship program at Harvard and Cambridge.
The Herchel Smith Graduate Fellowship Program, created in 2008 from an endowment Smith had established years earlier to support a variety of his research interests, provides funding for PhD students at both universities.
The Fellowship’s activities also include a biennial research conference for the Harvard and Cambridge Fellows that rotates between the US and the UK. This was Harvard’s year to host, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sponsored two days of activities that encouraged fellows and their advisors from both universities to make meaningful social and intellectual connections.
The Herchel Smith PhD Student Symposium 2012, held on June 21 and 22, began with welcoming remarks from Christopher T. Walsh, the Hamilton Kuhn Professor at the Harvard Medical School and the outgoing chair of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences program. Walsh was joined in those opening remarks by Professor Sir Tom Blundell of Cambridge, and by Peta Stevens, the head of the Cambridge University Research Office.
Over the next two days, students and faculty from Cambridge and from all of the 12 HILS PhD programs (biological and biomedical sciences, biological sciences in dental medicine, biological sciences in public health, biophysics, chemical biology, chemistry and chemical biology, immunology, molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, organismic and evolutionary biology, systems biology, and virology) presented their research in talks and poster sessions.
Sessions on June 21 took place in the Northwest Lab Building on the Cambridge campus; faculty and fellows gathered that evening for a festive dinner at the Busch-Reisinger Museum. On June 22, morning sessions were offered in Gordon Hall on the Longwood campus, and then attendees traveled to the Broad Institute for an afternoon tour.
Herchel Smith did his undergraduate study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and completed his PhD at Cambridge in 1952. As a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford (1952-56) and later a lecturer in organic chemistry at Manchester (1956-61), Smith began to develop novel methods for the modification of the chemical structures of naturally occurring steroids, and also of their total synthesis.
He moved to the United States in 1961 to work for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, where his research led to the invention of the first synthetic birth control pills, injectable contraceptives, and other hormone therapy treatments.
Smith retired from Wyeth in 1973 and devoted himself to philanthropy, making significant benefactions to a number of universities to promote the subjects in which he was particularly interested: chemistry, medicine, and patent law. Herchel Smith endowment funds also support endowed professorships, postdoctoral fellowships, and undergraduate scholarships and fellowships at Harvard and Cambridge.