A resident of Berkeley, Rapoport died at Kaiser Permanente Medical
Center in Oakland, Calif. He was 83.
For several decades, he taught the important chemistry courses required
by premedical and other life science students. He also taught upper-division
undergraduate and graduate-level courses in natural products chemistry.
He was widely recognized for his work in pharmaceutical and medicinal
chemistry, especially the synthesis of drug compounds. Among these
were morphine, codeine and paralytic shellfish poison, called saxitoxin,
in addition to antibiotics and anti-tumor compounds.
Appointed an instructor in chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1946, Rapoport
was promoted through the ranks to professor in 1957. He retired from
active service in 1989 and was awarded the Berkeley Citation in 1997.
Rapoport remained actively engaged in research and in mentoring postdoctoral
students until weeks before his death.
Rapoport was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 16, 1918. He attended
high school in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and earned his BS in 1940
from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a major in chemistry.
He remained at MIT for graduate work, receiving his PhD in organic
chemistry in 1943.
His first position was with the Heyden Chemical Corporation, where
he worked on the isolation, structure elucidation and synthesis of
penicillin. In 1945, he accepted a National Research Council Fellowship
at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where he carried
out research on the synthesis of morphine derivatives.
During his scientific career, Rapoport mentored over 300 graduate
students and postdoctoral fellows. He published more than 400 scientific
articles, of which more than 75 appeared after his retirement.
Rapoport also was granted numerous patents in the general area of
heterocyclic and natural products chemistry. He is noted for seminal
work on the biosynthesis of morphine using radiolabeled carbon as a
tracer element and for his contributions to the chemistry and biosynthesis
of the porphyrins. He and his students carried out one of the first
laboratory syntheses of the antitumor agent camptothecin.
In the 1970s, Rapoport teamed with his colleague John Hearst to develop
the chemistry of psoralens, natural products which have found use for
the deactivation of viruses and which served as the basis for formation
of a successful private company, Cerus Corporation.
Throughout his career, Rapoport contributed to the organic chemistry
profession in numerous ways, including serving as associate editor
of the Journal of Organic Chemistry and as a member of the Medicinal
Chemistry Study Section of the National Institutes of Health. He was
highly valued and sought after as a consultant by numerous pharmaceutical
Among his awards were the 1985 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award and the
1989 Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Essential Oils and Related
Compounds, both from the American Chemical Society.
Rapoport is survived by his wife of 57 years, Sonya Rapoport; their
daughter, Hava Rapoport, of Cordova, Spain; and sons, David of Berkeley
and Robert of Cincinnati, Ohio.
A memorial service will be held on the UC Berkeley campus in 775
Tan Hall on March 29 at 4 p.m. The family requests that, in lieu of
flowers, donations be made to the Henry Rapoport Endowed Chair in Organic
Chemistry at UC Berkeley, or to the Berkeley Hillel.