Last Lectures

Ron McClard [chemistry 1984–2014]

By Prof. Alan Shusterman

Thirty years is a long time in professor years.

When Arthur F. Scott Professor of Chemistry Ron McClard joined the Reed faculty in 1984, chemistry was being taught in the old chemistry building, a leaky, cold structure with broken plumbing, inadequate office space, and poorly equipped labs. But Ron seized the opportunity he was given, and began doing and publishing research with his students. Before long he had attracted a cohort of younger faculty united by the same vision: that Reed students were capable of rising to the challenge of doing publication-worthy research.

Now, as Ron retires from teaching, we celebrate his contributions to the college. Among them: obtaining NSF funding for major instruments including two FT-NMR spectrophotometers, publishing 50 papers (at least 15 with Reed student coauthors), teaching in nearly every departmental specialty, and supervising 50 senior theses spread over five different majors, including what might be the only Reed thesis for interdisciplinary work in biochemistry and mathematics. (Lindsay Nicole Deis ’09, “Application of Numerical Simulation to the Determination of Half-of-Sites Reactivity: A Case Study in Biotin Carboxylase.”)

As I retraced Ron’s teaching and research, I made several intriguing discoveries. In 1987 he published the paper “Does the bifunctional uridylate synthase channel orotidine 5-phosphate? Kinetics of orotate phosphoribosyltransferase and orotidylate decarboxylase activities fit a noninteracting sites model,” in Biochemistry with a bright young chemistry grad named Kevan Shokat ’86, who went on to become a pioneer in the field of kinases.

Ron’s favorite paper was published in 2006: “Half-of-Sites Binding of Orotidine 5-Phosphate and -D-5-Phosphorylribose 1-Diphosphate to Orotate Phosphoribosyltransferase from Saccharomyces cerevisiae Supports a Novel Variant of the Theorell−Chance Mechanism with Alternating Site Catalysis,” in Biochemistry (all four authors on this paper were affiliated with Reed; Ned Holets ’05 and Andy MacKinnon ’05 were thesis students of Ron’s).

Soon Ron will sail away to new adventures. Bon voyage, mon ami.