It is humorous to imagine the Director of Chemistry at a biopharmaceutical company brewing his own wine as a grad student for a UNL football game - one they watched from the roof top of Avery Hall. Sound like any former colleague you know? Let's hope that student’s brews have improved as he has gotten older. That is one of the many memories Ph.D. alum, Norton Peet, recalled as a grad student here at UNL.
Peet attended UNL from 1966 to 1970, completing his doctorate in an unheard of 3.5 years thanks to a NIH predoctoral research grant.
In those 3.5 years Peet created some wonderful memories. He speaks very fondly of his professors and especially his advisor, Dr. James H. Looker.
"My colleagues and I were lucky to be a part of the Chemistry Department at UNL during this era when we had a group of outstanding organic professors who taught, mentored, and advised us," commented Peet. Among his favorite professors he recalls were: James Looker, Norman Cromwell, Henry Baumgarten, Desmond Wheeler, Charles Kingsbury and Chris Michjeda. "This was the Camelot Era at UNL."
Peet recalls being very enthralled with this innovative learning environment and absorbing it all along with the numerous opportunities it presented.
"My fondest memories really revolve around being a part of a dynamic chemistry department where I could learn new things, conduct independent basic laboratory research, synthesize new compounds that had never before been reported, and prepare myself for a career in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry where I could apply my knowledge to real-life challenges."
Peet credits that environment for producing some outstanding chemists who thrived as students and in their careers as well. Peet has personal knowledge of several of his colleagues, who have done exceptionally well, including: Robert Cregge, Claire Olander, Robert Auerbach, Richard Rodebaugh, Barry Gold, Earl Doomes, Karlheinz Kronberger, and George Glaros.
Peet's time with the UNL Chemistry Department wasn't all work. He did find time to relax with his friends which is often a precious resource in grad school.
"I will always remember the radiator that the graduate students mounted in the big lab in Avery Laboratory, which served as a heater in the winter (with steam) and an air-conditioner (with cold water) in the summer. I also remember attending a football game with wineskins containing grape juice and lab ethanol (guaranteed to be benzene-free by hplc by Don Olander) with colleagues. It was more usual for us to take a break from lab work on a Saturday afternoon and watch the game from the top floor of Avery Laboratory."
When Peet had the time he and his wife Pat would often spend their leisure time ice skating, playing bridge, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and seeing an occasional movie when the budget would allow.
However, during his grad school years there were some challenges. Peet recalls that he and his wife had to live on a tight budget while both were attending UNL. (Sound familiar?) To give you an idea of how prices have changed Peet said his apartment on 16th cost $73 a month back in the late 1960s. What our current grad students wouldn’t give to be paying $73 a month in rent.
With his UNL education, Peet was able to build a long and successful career.
"UNL equipped me with strong skills in synthetic organic chemistry and a good work ethic, which placed me in a good position for selling myself to industry." His first job with Dow Chemical led to a progression of assignments with increasing responsibility with a company that was about to embark on a series of mergers and acquisitions. He stayed with this progression until the company name was Aventis, where he was Head of Medicinal Chemistry and Distinguished Scientist. Peet realized that his major responsibility had evolved into the management of mergers rather than science, so he left big pharma in 2000 to become a VP at ArQule, where he built an integrated Drug Discovery Group for the company. In 2002, he became the first CEO of Aurigene Discovery Technologies. He built and staffed a small laboratory in Boston and a large laboratory in Bangalore, India. In 2005, Peet became an International Consultant to the Pharmaceutical Industry and shortly after became the Director of Chemistry at Microbiotix in Worcester, MA, where he is presently one of the executives that manages this anti-infective company.
Peet is also very active in the scientific community with several professional affiliations, including the American Chemical Society and the Industrial Advisory Board for the Chemistry Department at UNL. In addition, he also has worked with several scientific journals, spoken at numerous universities on drug discovery, and chaired several international symposia. His publications include 160 research articles, several book chapters, and inventorship on 65 US patents.
In his spare time, Peet enjoys woodworking, playing the piano, and volunteering with various organizations including their local church, Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, the United Way of Greater Boston, and Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence.
Peet and his wife Pat, who also graduated from UNL, have three wonderful children (Dustin, Dulcie and Andrea) and have nine grandchildren, including recently born twins.
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