Inventor of BHC Ibuprofen gives pragmatic advice to students

Alex Hubbell

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Throughout a chemistry student’s academic journey one might miss a chance to hear actual advice for the real world and how it impacts their lives in the lab, a recent seminar lent this exact opportunity.

Mark Murphy, a registered patent attorney at UVLaw Patents LLC, gave a seminar Sept. 28 in Garwood Hall where he explained the history and industry standpoint of green chemistry. This seminar was part of the chemistry seminar series run by the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences.

The event was hosted by Brett Taubman, an assistant professor in the department.

Green chemistry, the high-efficiency approach to chemistry, had four major generations of innovations, most of which were undisclosed because of industry laws.

After the federal reserve cut the money supply, industries looked to Murphy’s research team. They were placed in a course immediately upon his hiring that was constructed by Horace Edwards Deming’s philosophies, a statistician and engineer consultant that helped Japan’s economy immensely after World War II, Murphy said.

Deming’s system took a holistic learning approach that took account of the big picture and the reductionist picture, a picture that many scientists tend to focus solely on, Murphy said.

Murphy credits the way the concept of BHC Ibuprofen, a green chemistry pharmaceutical drug, came to be by quoting Louis Pasteur saying: “chance favors the prepared mind.”

A professor happened to present something on a slide one day that sparked Murphy’s problem-solving skills, but it was based mostly in the information he had already learned. Murphy said he went home that night and used the logic from his synthetic chemistry class, “to look at the target and work backward.”

“Within a matter of a few minutes that night I came up with a scheme that you can use for a lot of things and the one that worked out was ibuprofen,” Murphy said. “Chance favors a prepared mind. I knew about these pieces. It sparked my idea.”

The innovation of pharmaceutical green chemistry led the research team to win numerous awards and Murphy has gone on to hold seven patented inventions including the creation of BHC Ibuprofen.

Like Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker to use the force to help him in times of trouble, scientists should use “the quality force” for the good.

Murphy detailed Deming’s cycle, a cycle of thinking Deming suggested people use when creating and innovating. The idea was to constantly improve oneself, and by association, others will as well. Eventually, this, in theory, would lead to the recognition of a real-world problem that can be fixed. It is a mental activity outside the confines of a lab.

Keep improving yourself and “you may be able to convince your co-workers, your managers, your regulators, your customers and you’ll have a good idea,” and the world will improve because of it, Murphy said.

David C. Bradford, a former App student, was mentioned at the end of the seminar to bring the point of the power of the holistic approach home. He graduated and immediately went into the real world. He went on to win the Presidential Green Chemistry award in 2006 given by the EPA for his recyclable food packaging and has two patents.

Brett Taubman, an assistant professor for chemistry courses, was in attendance and thought it was beneficial for the students to get a more industry-focused perspective from Murphy.

“It was an excellent example of the pragmatism that is necessary in industry,” Taubman said. “As he pointed out, most people don’t think of industry as being one of the driving forces behind the green chemistry movement.”

Other professors in the Department Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences tend to agree that the seminar series brings opportunities for students to learn and sometimes more. Nicholas Shaw, an assistant professor in the department, is one of those professors.

“The Chemistry Series is more than just science. Often times, these seminars also serve as graduate school recruitment opportunities as many of the speakers come from Ph.D. granting institutions,” Shaw said.

Story by Alexander Hubbell