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James Shoolery Award

In 2014, SMASH established the James Shoolery Award as a grant, in honor of James N. Shoolery, to recognize the important contributions by an individual to the field of small molecule NMR spectroscopy.

James N. Shoolery PhotoIn 1952, Jim Shoolery joined Varian Associates to set up an applications laboratory for NMR spectroscopy.  His main initial goals were to develop applications of NMR in chemistry and to educate the wider chemistry community in the potential value of NMR spectroscopy in their research.  In pursuit of these goals during the 1950’s, he published a series of highly popular ads entitled “NMR at Work,” initially in Analytical Chemistry and later on the back page of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.  These illustrated a wide range of applications of NMR in chemistry and were based on work that he carried out in the applications lab.  He also wrote a number of “Technical Information Bulletins” to help spectrometer owners in the operation of their instruments.  Finally, he gave numerous lectures at conferences and research laboratories and at the annual NMR and EPR workshops that Varian Associates held in Palo Alto starting in 1958.  In a 1993 article on the early history of NMR, he estimated that about 20,000 scientists had attended these different lectures by the end of the 1950’s.

At the same time, Jim interacted with the R & D division of Varian on NMR instrument improvement, including the progression of 1H operating frequency on Varian spectrometers from 30 to 40 to 60 and finally to 100 MHz by 1959.  He was also involved in important technical improvements, including sample spinning, shim coils, spin decoupling, a flux stabilizer, and an electronic integrator.  However, even with these improvements, the HR series of spectrometers were still extremely tricky to operate, requiring a significant amount of training, operating experience and patience.  Jim realized that NMR spectroscopy would not reach its full potential as an analytical technique in chemistry until a spectrometer was developed that would be much easier to use, similar to the routine IR spectrometers that were already available from other manufacturers.  Therefore, in 1957, Jim teamed with Emery Rogers of the marketing division of Varian to propose to the R & D division the development of a lower cost NMR spectrometer, which could use calibrated chart paper, which was rugged and reliable, and which could be run by graduate students and laboratory technicians with no training other than that provided by the spectrometer manual.  He was heavily involved in this project, which resulted in 1961 in the introduction of the Varian A-60. This was a truly revolutionary development whose ease of operation triggered a dramatic increase in the use of NMR spectroscopy by chemists, in general, and by organic chemists, in particular.  To illustrate its impact, the 1960 volume of the Journal of Organic Chemistry contained only one paper reporting the use of NMR while the 1967 volume included 220 papers, which used NMR data.  In 2011, the seminal role of the A-60 in the development of NMR as a valuable analytical technique was recognized by the American Chemical Society as a National Historical Chemical Landmark in a ceremony at the Agilent facility in Santa Clara.

After the initial demonstration of FT NMR at Varian, Jim was involved in the development of the CFT-20 and FT-80 Varian spectrometers.  These followed in the footsteps of the A-60 in being low cost and easy-to-use instruments for chemistry labs. In 1972, his book, “A Basic Guide to NMR,” was published by Varian Associates and helped to educate many young chemists in the use of NMR.  Later, with the development of multi-pulse sequences and 2D NMR, Jim was among the first to recognize the great value of these techniques for identifying unknown organic chemical structures, particularly in the natural products field.  Jim, along with Steve Patt, developed the APT sequence for spectral editing 13C spectra of organic compounds and, through the 1980’s, he collaborated with a number of natural products groups in establishing structures and assigning spectra of the compounds which they had isolated.  He also, in 1984, published an important review article in the Journal of Natural Products, which clearly demonstrated the value of modern NMR techniques in the natural products field.

Jim Shoolery sadly passed away on September 24, 2015 in Half Moon Bay, California.