Paul Boyer remembered as distinguished alumnus, Nobel laureate, generous supporter

Black-and-white photo of Paul Boyer reading a book.
Paul Boyer.

University of Wisconsin–Madison biochemistry Ph.D. alumnus and UCLA Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry Paul Boyer died on June 2 at the age of 99. Boyer carried out groundbreaking research in the department as a young scientist and earned a Nobel Prize in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1997.

“Paul Boyer was clearly one of the best products of our department at UW–Madison not only because of his awesome achievements in science but also because of his modesty and his willingness to be of assistance to anyone requesting it,” says Biochemistry Professor Emeritus Hector DeLuca, who knew Boyer. “He had the highest standards of behavior in addition to his obvious scientific abilities.”

Even as a young scientist, Boyer was a prolific researcher. During his time at UW–Madison, he discovered the first known function for potassium. After earning his Ph.D. in 1943 he performed research at Stanford University, investigating how to stabilize blood plasma without refrigeration. That work was used on the battlefield during World War II.

After almost two decades at the University of Minnesota, he joined UCLA in 1963. In his early years at UCLA, he helped start and lead their Molecular Biology Institute, which opened in 1965.

Photo of Boyer and his family laughing
Paul Boyer with his wife and daughters in October 2015. Photo by Reed Hutchinson/UCLA.

His most momentous achievement at UCLA came when he earned the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking research on adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is the main energy source for biological reactions in the cell.

ATP is the vehicle by which nutrients in plants and animals are put to work to perform almost all cellular activities that require energy, such as making new cells and contracting muscles. Boyer referred to ATP as the “currency of the cell.” Over decades of work he helped decipher how ATP functions.

Boyer used a large portion of his Nobel Prize winnings to fund support for postdoctoral awards at several universities, including UW–Madison. The Boyer Award for Postdoctoral Excellence in Biochemistry recognizes a postdoctoral researcher in the UW–Madison Department of Biochemistry for his or her excellence in research. The postdoc also gives a lecture as part of the Boyer Lecture Series. Eric Montemayor, who was a postdoc and is now an assistant scientist in the lab of Professor Sam Butcher, won the award in 2014.

“It was an honor to be recognized for this award during my postdoctoral training at UW–Madison, especially since the award was established by such an accomplished alumnus of our department,” Montemayor says. “Paul’s career was truly inspirational. His legacy has inspired me to never shy away from the ‘tough’ projects, and to constantly think about how our work can fit into the bigger picture of scientific knowledge.”

Some information from the UCLA Newsroom. See source story here

To read a memorial resolution on Boyer, click here