Born in Bavaria, Germany, Ralph Hirschmann came to the US
in his teens. He graduated from Oberlin College before serving
in the US Army for three years. He resumed his education at
the University of Wisconsin (Madison) with W. S. Johnson as
the Sterling Winthrop Fellow (1950). That year he was recruited
by M. Tishler to join Process Research at Merck. He discovered
the first rearrangement under stereoelectronic control, studied
later in detail by E. J. Corey. With R. G. Denkenwalter he
directed the first solution synthesis of an enzyme, announced
jointly with Merrifield's solid phase synthesis in 1969.
Becoming increasingly interested in medicinal and bio-organic
chemistry, he was appointed Executive Director of Medicinal
Chemistry at Merck, West Point (PA) in 1974 and Vice President/Senior
Vice President of Basic Research (Rahway) in 1976/1978, respectively.
Professional activities included serving on the NIH Medicinal
Chemistry A Study Section, on several committees of the NSF,
NRC and ACS, on over a dozen Editorial and Advisory Boards,
and on the Boards of Trustees of Oberlin College, the Gordon
Research Conferences, and others.
He holds three honorary Doctor of Science degrees and was
elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
and of the National Academy of Sciences. During his tenure
as Merck's Head of Basic Research, his colleagues discovered
and/or studied such blockbuster drugs as Mevacor, Vasotec,
Primaxin and Ivermectin.
In 1988 he was invited to join the Department of Chemistry
of the University of Pennsylvania as the first Research Professor
in Chemistry. In 1994 he was appointed the Rao Makineni Professor
of Bioorganic Chemistry.