Biography - William L. Duax (1939 - )

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William L. Duax – A Friend and Colleague

By S. Narasinga Rao 

2020

William L. Duax

S. Narasinga Rao is CFO, American Crystallographic Association Inc., Financial Counselor, IUCr, Dean Emeritus, Dr. Joe C. Jackson College of Graduate Studies and Research, Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics and Engineering, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma and Ex-Governing Board Member, American Institute of Physics.

 

I am pleased and honored to write a brief article on William Leo Duax, popularly known as Bill Duax and in short as “Bill.” 

Bill Duax was born on April 18, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois, to William Joseph and Alice B. (Joyce) Duax.

As everyone in crystallographic community knows, Bill has been CEO of American Crystallographic Association for more than 30 years. I have had the pleasure of working closely with Bill as treasurer for six years and then as chief financial officer of ACA and have served in such capacities since 1986 on the ACA Council for 34 years. Bill was instrumental to house ACA office in Buffalo at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute where he still serves as Herbert A. Hauptman Distinguished Scientist and also as a professor of biophysics at the structural biology department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Bill began his career at ACA as a member, officer, president and executive officer and quickly found his footing and not only became a valuable member of our team but started to take over in areas that weren't even on his job description. Jokes aside, Bill's work acumen was second to none, always serious about his deadlines, his tasks for the day: "laid out on little yellow post it notes stuck all over his desk." He was a sporty team player in the true sense of the word!

Bill Duax is an American biologist and researcher. 

  • Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry, from University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, in 1967
  • Postdoctoral research fellow Ohio University, Athens, 1967-1968
  • Fulbright Scholar Program, Council for International Exchange, 1987
  • Grantee, National Institutes of Health, since 1971
  • Research associate, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (formerly Medical Foundation), Buffalo, 1968-1969
  • Head, Crystallography Department, Medical Foundation Buffalo, 1969-1970
  • Head Molecular Biophysics Department, 1970-1988
  • Associate Director Research, 1983-1988
  • Research Director, 1988-1993
  • Executive Vice President Research, 1993-1999
  • Vice President, 1998-1999
  • H.A. Hauptman Distinguished Scientist, since 2000
  • Recipient of Special Merit award Institute Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 1987-1993
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, St. Ambrose College, 1983
  • Clinical Ligand Assay Society Distinguished Scientist award, 1994
  • Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, University of Lodz, Poland, 1999

Bill as a person is a complex organic structure whose structure cannot be solved easily. It is not two- or three-dimensional, but multi-dimensional. There are no known structure-solving techniques for a multi-dimensional Bill, no Nobel Prize winning direct methods even. The only way one could analyze Bill and understand him is by close association with him.

Bill has carried out his message of crystallography to Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Guyana, Columbia, and India to mention not all but a few. Thus, he is not only an American crystallographer, but he is a Global Crystallographer. His interest in minorities and less developed countries is noteworthy. As a member of ACA Council, he always fought for making Latin American crystallographers and African crystallographers to be associated with ACA and make Latin American Crystallographic Society an affiliate of ACA. To support crystallographers from these countries to attend ACA meetings he has come forward to donate his personal money.

On a personal note, when I started as an ACA treasurer in 1989, I started with only $80,000 in total assets of ACA that included operating, meeting and award accounts. There were no individual award accounts. All awards were combined in total assets. At Bill’s suggestion and with his cooperation, I was able to research where the different awards were, and when they were started so that we could identify to a certain degree different amounts in various award categories. Bill and I also thought that it would be easier if all awards were with ACA so that we could monitor and administer them. This way, all designated ACA awards would be managed and awards issued by ACA. Bill was also responsible to write letters to industries and corporations to raise funds and bring nearly $50-60,000 every year for ACA annual meeting program expenses.

As an example, after many deliberations, I found out that Fankuchen Award was with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and they had no idea what to do with it. No single individual was responsible to monitor it. They were good enough to transfer whatever funds they thought were in the award fund and transferred it to ACA. This way, we were able to identify several awards that were situated in several places. Bill was a visionary to help me organize and put several things in place for ACA. I also had the opportunity to work with him and others, especially, Judith Flippen-Anderson in organizing, budgeting and executing utilizing funds for IUCr Congress and General Assembly in 1996 at Seattle.

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s words, Bill Duax is: the Global Man of Crystallography, of fabulous research and fabulous enthusiasm, of somersault splendor, complex structures and functions, of genii and giants and great humor, of humility and sincerity, of dedication to teaching of crystallography and the taught, of integrity, commitment, dedication, teaching and training high school students at the Hauptman-Woodward Research Institute in Buffalo in the United States, leader and promoter of talents in minorities, youth, and research, of inspiring scientists in the land of a thousand crystallographers, and around the globe and of several fields, in the cradle of the Crystal Structures, Grandfather of legend, Great-grandfather of tradition, of wonderful purity, childlike and profoundly stubborn with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the scientists—the one soul under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for crystal lovers and connoisseurs, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one man that all people desired to see and interact. 

Bill’s accomplishments and achievements include 225 invited lectures in over 30 countries; 285 reviewed manuscripts in national and international scientific journals; 45 review chapters in books on steroid hormone biochemistry, ion transport, antibiotics and X-ray crystallography; author of 4 books and 425 abstracts at scientific meetings.

Bill has served as CEO of ACA since 1986. He was program chair for the 17th IUCr Congress and General assembly in Seattle, WA in 1996 and was President of IUCr from 2002-2005, served as a member of IUCr Commission on Structural Chemistry (IUCr-CSC). Bill also served as Newsletter editor for IUCr from 1993-2017.

His scientific interests and hobbies include but not limited to bioinformatics, proteomics and genomics, ion transport, antibiotics and toxins, crystallography in South America, crystallography in Central America, IUCr Newsletter, American Crystallographic Association, High School Apprentice Program at HWI, steroid chemistry, biochemistry, photography, and somersault.

Bill is retiring as CEO of ACA effective December 31, 2019. He will be sorely missed by me, and I think I can speak for all who know him and those that had the joy to work alongside of him all these years: Bill will not be easily forgotten or replaced.

It has been a great pleasure for me working with Bill so closely on the ACA Council for 30 years. I am personally very happy that we have been able to build the ACA assets from $80,000 to nearly more than a million now, of which nearly half a million is endowed for awards and the balance is in the reserves which has been my goal from the time I became the treasurer in 1989.

Below are a few photos of Bill with crystallography pioneers and Nobel Laureates. He was mainly responsible to bring eight Nobel Laureates in crystallography to an ACA meeting in Philadelphia in 1988. (See the videos from that meeting here.) 

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Eleanor J. Dodson, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, William L. Duax
(IUCr Congress, 1990, Bordeaux, France). 

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William L. Duax and Herbert A. Hauptman.

 

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Nobel Laureates at the 1988 ACA Nobel Laureates Symposium, Philadelphia, PA.
L to R, sitting:  Sir John Cowdery Kendrew (1962, chemistry, hemoglobin); Clifford G. Shull (1994, physics, neutron diffraction); Bertram Brockhouse (1994, physics, neutron diffraction); William N. Lipscomb (1976, chemistry, boron chemistry).
L to R, standing:  Jerome Karle (1985: chemistry, direct methods); Johann Deisenhofer (1988, chemistry, photosynthetic reaction center); Herbert A. Hauptman (1985, chemistry, direct methods); Hartmut Michel (1988, chemistry, photosynthetic reaction center).



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ACA Past Presidents gathered at McMaster University in 1986. Back row: David Sayre (1982), Robert E. Newnham (1985), David P. Shoemaker (1970), and Kenneth N. Trueblood (1961).  
Center row: Ray A. Young (1973), Jerome Karle (1972), Philip Coppens (1978), William R. Busing (1971), William L. Duax (1986), and John S. Kasper (1967).  
Front row: Isabella L. Karle (1976), Sidney C. Abrahams (1968), David Harker (ASXRED 1946) and Harold (Hal) W. Wyckoff (1980).

 

 

The following is a tribute to Bill Duax written by Alexander McPherson at Narasinga Rao’s request for the “Symposium on Bill Duax” at the IUCr Congress and General Assembly held in Hyderabad, India in 2017.

 

In honor of Bill Duax

By Alexander McPherson 

To my colleagues and friends in the vast crystallographic community, it is with great pleasure that I offer this brief testimonial for the distinguished, yet always humble, Bill Duax, on the occasion of this symposium. I greatly regret not being able to be there in person and shake Bill’s hand and slap him on the back, so I hope these few words will add a mellow note to those happy proceedings.  I can think of few other scientists who have contributed so much and are so deserving of the recognition you are bestowing upon him. He is truly an exceptional scientist, colleague and gentleman. Most of all, he has been a great personal friend for almost longer than I can remember.

I was first introduced to Bill more than 40 years ago when I was a postdoctoral fellow at MIT, and Bill was developing what was to become the finest laboratory in the world in the area of X-ray crystallography of steroids at the Buffalo Medical Foundation (now Hauptman-Woodward). Under his leadership, his group of scientists achieved international renown, not only for their structural investigations, but for the methodologies and mathematical approaches they developed.

Under Bill’s leadership, the Buffalo Medical Foundation crystallographers, I think it is fair to say, also became the world’s leading institution, and certainly most innovative laboratory, in the development of direct methods. Those methods, bold and controversial at the time, have come to dominate conventional small molecule X-ray crystallography, and have in more recent times had a profound impact on macromolecular research as well.

Bill’s active mind didn’t rest on these successes, however, and in the 1980s, while still maintaining primacy in mathematical approaches to structure determination, he moved his laboratory in the direction of protein crystallography. As might have been anticipated from their past accomplishments and their intellectual strengths, the group was enormously successful in this field as well.

Bill’s scientific achievements and his many published contributions to the field of X-ray crystallography are distinguished, respected, innovative, and a matter of public record.  They need no extensive review here.  What may not be so evident, and something which must be made crystal clear (pun intended), is Bill’s unmatched contribution to the organization and nurturing of both the American and the International crystallographic community.  In my view, Bill is the savior, and this is no exaggeration, of the American Crystallographic Association, and he is the most remarkable ambassador to the international crystallographic community that we have ever had. 

Bill personally took control of a faltering ACA, a society with dwindling membership, unattractive to young scientists, and increasingly losing any sense of vision. He completely turned the organization around, gave it new purpose, new direction, attracted new members, and in the end transformed it into one of the most significant, vital, and active scientific societies in the United States.  I have never before, or since, known of anyone to do so much for a scientific community as Bill did for the X-ray crystallographers of America.

Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough, what an outstanding friend and representative Bill has been to the international body of crystallographers. In many parts of the world, I am convinced, Bill Duax means American crystallography. He is admired, respected, and personally liked by probably more scientists in more countries than any other man I know. Just as he restored the ACA to health and vigor, so has he promoted the importance of crystallographic research worldwide. He has put, if you will, a human face on American scientists.

I very strongly, and with deep sincerity, applaud your honoring Bill Duax at this conference and, from a distance, wish him the best in life. He has been an inspiration as an exceptional scientist, colleague and a trusted friend. He is rich with honor.

–Alexander McPherson
Professor Emeritus
University of California, Irvine

 

Duax's academic family tree