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Biochemist Frey honored for career leadership

August 16, 2007

Each week, graduate students and postdocs arrived with data and arguments at the ready, prepared to discuss the progress of their research at the round table in Perry Frey‘s office. The students presented their findings one by one and waited nervously for their professor’s response.

“Those weekly meetings could be pretty stressful, especially early on,” says Adrian Hegeman, an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Biotechnology Center and a former student in Frey’s biochemistry lab at UW–Madison. “But they really kept everyone on track and allowed Perry to constantly monitor our progress as young scientists.”

It’s a common memory for dozens of graduate students who learned under the tutelage of Frey, UW–Madison’s Robert H. Abeles Professor of Biochemistry. A pioneer in the field of radical-mediated enzyme reactions, Frey has been a leader and mentor in the field of biological chemistry for more than two decades. In recognition of his career achievements, the American Chemical Society’s Division of Biological Chemistry is hosting a symposium in Frey’s honor on Wednesday, Aug. 22, during the society’s annual meeting in Boston.

Frey has acted as the ACS’ associate editor of biochemistry for the past 15 years. He has also served on the executive committee of the Division of Biological Chemistry and held the position of chair from 1990-92. Since beginning his research career at UW–Madison in 1981, he has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1998), the American Academy of Sciences (2003) and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (2003). In 2000, he received the ACS Division of Biological Chemistry’s Repligen Award, an honor that his mentor, Professor Robert H. Abeles of Brandeis University, received years earlier.

“My work has gone better than I ever imagined that it would,” Frey says. “I’ve accomplished far more than I could contemplate. And it’s not just because of me, it’s because of advancements in science. We can do things we couldn’t even think about doing 20 years ago.”

While Frey has received great accolades for his science, colleagues and students see him first as a kind, humble man who is a dedicated mentor.

“It is difficult to single out lessons learned from Perry,” says former student John Richard, now a professor of chemistry at the State University of New York at Buffalo, “but even harder to think of an area of my conduct that has not been strongly influenced by our interactions. He has been a superb role model.”

Richard is one of several former students who will speak at the symposium next week. No doubt the opportunity will arise to reminisce about Frey’s round table and his notorious lab meetings. Stressful though they may have been, those sessions did the trick.

“After a few years of this, you would get pretty good at constructing arguments and designing experiments that would convince Perry that you had addressed every contingency,” Hegeman says. “By the last year he would pretty much just smile and ask questions as we presented a near seamless argument.”