We are deeply saddened to report that our Chemistry community lost two former faculty colleagues over the past year, Prof. Michael Detty and Prof. Peter Lansbury.
Mike Detty was a native of Ohio. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bowling Green State University and his PhD in organic chemistry from The Ohio State University. After completing his PhD, Mike spent 17 years as a research scientist at the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, where he developed a range of dye chromophores, focusing particularly on IR-absorbing dyes. His work at Kodak yielded 26 patents and 62 peer-reviewed articles.
In 1995, Mike joined UB’s faculty, initially in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and then in the Department of Chemistry following the merger of the two departments. Mike made lasting contributions in research, teaching, and service, and he truly relished the opportunity to contribute in all three pillars of academia.
Mike expanded his prolific research career at UB, applying synthetic organic chemistry and the design of dyes and other compounds to wide-ranging problems in medicinal chemistry, materials science, catalysis, solar energy conversion, biofouling, and biomedical imaging. Mike’s research on heavy chalcogen dyes is world-renowned. A hallmark of Detty group research was its collaborative nature; he and his group engaged in many successful collaborations with researchers at UB and worldwide. While at UB, Mike authored over 130 peer-reviewed publications and obtained seven more U.S. patents. Mike received the Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal from the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society, as well as UB’s Visionary Inventor Award in recognition of his accomplishments in research and technology transfer.
Mike was deeply committed to training and mentoring young scientists, from undergraduate and graduate students in the classroom and laboratory to young faculty colleagues beginning their independent academic careers. Mike graduated twenty-plus PhD students and mentored countless undergraduate researchers, and additionally was a skilled and dedicated classroom teacher. Mike’s superior teaching and mentoring was recognized with the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Milton Plesur Award from the Undergraduate Student Association, and the Meyerson Mentoring Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and Mentoring.
Mike was also an accomplished administrator. Throughout his academic career, Mike served selflessly on an outsized share of committees in the department and beyond. He served as chair of the Department of Chemistry for four years, during which time we hired six new faculty and addressed key staffing needs. Mike wasn’t afraid to shake things up, and he left the department better than he found it. Following his term as chair, Mike served for two years as Interim Director of UB’s Center for the Arts. During that role, Mike merged his administrative prowess with his love of music and the performing arts, and he found yet another way to move our university forward.
The following testimonials from faculty and former students echo these themes and highlight Mike’s wide-ranging and lasting impact in our department and university:
From Kellie Gast, PhD, former PhD student with Prof. Detty and currently Assistant Professor of Chemistry at St. Bonaventure University: “Dr. Detty was one of the main reasons I joined the UB Chem department for graduate school. He helped me through an REU in the summer of 2010 and welcomed me back with open arms in the summer of 2012. I had dreams of doing a project with cancer research and Dr. Detty made that happen for me. We were fortunate enough to get experience with synthesis and then testing at Roswell Park. Dr. Detty is also one of the main reasons I went into teaching. He truly was a great teacher and mentor. He knew when to give us some tough love, but then would always follow it up by bringing in some bagels for us to have breakfast on an early morning in the lab.”
From Konstantinos Plakas, PhD, former PhD student with Prof. Detty and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania: “Dr. Detty was a supportive mentor, colleague, and friend. He was supportive in guiding me in my development as a scientist while also demonstrating patience as he granted me the freedom to formulate my own questions and solutions. His expertise in the field of dye chemistry and his genuine passion for problem-solving is evident through his myriad of internal and external collaborations and long-lasting professional relationships. He was also incredibly supportive of undergraduate students, often ensuring that each graduate student had a mentee to work with.”
From Prof. Sherry Chemler: “Mike was an outstanding role model and mentor. The high standards he had for his students and colleagues was modeled by the high standards he had for himself. He was a strong advocate for merit-based professional advancement and was ahead of his time in tackling issues of equity and inclusion. He was generous in sharing his scientific expertise, which ranged from organic to medicinal to physical chemistry. He was also generous in sharing the wisdom gained through his personal life experience. Mike’s strong moral compass and giving nature was evident throughout his personal and professional life and he is missed.”
From Prof. Steve Diver: “It was a pleasure serving on the chemistry faculty with Mike Detty for the past two decades. For brevity, I will overlook the distinction Mike achieved in his research and instead reflect on a few personal qualities that I came to respect over the years. These positive attributes uplifted others and enhanced teaching and research in the department.
"First, Mike communicated effectively with students of all levels. We give brief presentations each year to pitch our research projects to new graduate students; it amazed me to see how persuasive Mike was and how well he communicated the impact of his work. His effective communication may explain his second quality, his love of teaching. Maybe all those years at Kodak saw his natural talent for teaching repressed, and it came free when he started in academics at UB! Mike enjoyed teaching medicinal and organic chemistry and remarkably, it seemed to come easy to him. Because of their importance in pharmaceuticals, Mike was always chomping at the bit to teach students about heterocyclic chemistry! At the drop of a hat, he could teach a class on this subject. He covered for me many times and taught heterocycles recently in my organic class. Third, Mike relentlessly praised and promoted his students. He effectively conveyed his respect for them as individuals and was able to both praise and articulate their accomplishments. This support may help explain many of the successful careers of Detty group alumni. Last, Mike championed our junior colleagues, the new assistant professors. I think he valued their new ideas, the fresh research projects and maybe he liked the opportunity to share some of his learned wisdom. This had a positive impact on our faculty development.
"This glimpse of Mike shows what an influential faculty member he was. Seeing his example helped me re-affirm my commitment to serve my students and to strive for teaching excellence. His retirement was too short and he is missed by faculty and students here at UB.”
Mike cherished his role as a member of our faculty. He positively impacted the lives of countless students and colleagues, and he made myriad contributions in research, teaching, mentoring, technology transfer, and administration. Mike left a lasting impression at UB, and the impact of his work will live on. He is sorely missed by faculty, staff, and students.
Peter Lansbury, Sr. loved chemistry. Following PhD studies at Northwestern University, Peter began his research career at DuPont Central Research. He then joined UB’s Chemistry faculty in 1960 and spent his entire career here until retiring in 1995.
Peter published 80-plus research articles while at UB. His research involved synthetic organic chemistry, ranging from the elucidation of mechanisms of organic transformations including alkylations, rearrangements, and eliminations, to the development of numerous total syntheses.
Peter simply loved to teach Organic Chemistry and to introduce students to basic research. He was immensely proud of his students’ accomplishments and continued to correspond with former students after his retirement.
Peter received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and won the Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal from the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society.
The Peter T. Lansbury Award was established in 1999 by PhD alumnus Joseph Vacca to honor Peter, his PhD advisor. The Lansbury Award is given to undergraduate chemistry majors to support summer undergraduate research. The award is a fitting tribute to Prof. Lansbury’s lifelong passion for research, teaching, and mentoring, and it continues to support students who share Peter’s passion for chemistry and research.
Vacca, who is a Merck Research Laboratories Presidential Fellow and a member of the American Chemical Society’s Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame, and who received the 2020 Julian Park Award from UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, emphasizes Peter’s positive impact at the outset of his career: “Dr. Lansbury was a great mentor to me during my PhD career. He was always excited to come into the lab and discuss the chemistry we were working on and he taught me a lot about maintaining a high level of science and to think critically about the next steps that I needed to take in the process. He also played a major role in helping me to find a job at Merck Research Laboratories and I owe a lot of my career accomplishments to my training under him.”
As a teacher, mentor, and enthusiastic proponent of organic chemistry and scientific research, Peter influenced the lives of countless students. His memory and the impact of his work live on in our department and beyond.