Richmond Sarpong from the College of Chemistry received the 2021 Edward Leete Award on Thursday for his research and teachings within the field of organic chemistry.
The Edward Leete Award acknowledges exceptional teaching and research contributions in the field of organic chemistry, according to the American Chemical Society, or ACS, website. The award is named after Edward Leete, who researched alkaloid biogenesis using methods available in the mid-20th century, and whose work continues to be featured in nearly 250 publications.
“It’s a high honor for me to be recognized both for research and teaching because I view myself as a teacher first, and as a community we need to value teaching even more,” Sarpong said. “To me, this award exemplifies that combination which I think is very important, and, of course, I’m thankful to my students who are a very important part of what we do.”
Sarpong grew up in Ghana, West Africa and became interested in chemistry after witnessing the effectiveness of the drug ivermectin in combating river blindness in his own community.
He went on to study at Macalester College, later doing his graduate work with Martin Semmelhack at Princeton University.
“One of the things I really appreciate also, as somebody from an underrepresented group, is that I think this can shine light on me as perhaps a role model for students from underrepresented groups,” Sarpong said. “I hope to use that time in the limelight to really encourage others into research and teaching.”
As a testament to his dedication to teaching, Sarpong has received several awards for chemistry instruction. He was the recipient of the 2009 UC Berkeley Department of Chemistry teaching award and campus’s 2016 Donald Sterling Noyce Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the physical sciences, according to his website.
Additionally, over the past several years, he has received numerous awards in recognition of his research including the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, ACS Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award and Mukaiyama Award from the Society of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Japan.
Under Sarpong’s leadership, his research group has published more than 110 papers.
“What I want to emphasize is for educational situations, (Sarpong) lets people think deeper and think by themselves,” said Goh Sennari, an assistant project scientist. “We can, by ourselves, find the solutions, and he can guide us to find those solutions.”
At UC Berkeley, Sarpong and his research group have been analyzing secondary metabolites from marine and terrestrial flora and fauna.
Sarpong frequently expresses appreciation for the students he has worked with. According to his website, he is “proud” of those who move on to their own independent careers.
“I hope that (this award) enables us to bring an even wider range and number of the brightest, most talented students to Berkeley. To me, that is really at the core of what we do,” Sarpong said. “If you surround yourself with really talented people and you teach and share with them the foundations for the field, the future is yours because these talented people can conjure up and identify the best problems to solve and conjure up the best solutions to these problems.”