In the early 1990s Bertram Oliver Fraser-Reid was being touted as the first person of African descent to have a serious chance at winning the Nobel Prize in a branch of science. In fact, this native of Coleyville, Jamaica, born February 23, 1934, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998. Fraser-Reid was awarded his B.Sc. (first-class honors) and M.Sc. degrees at Queen’s University in Canada in 1959 and his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Alberta in 1964. From 1964 to 1966 he was a postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College, the University of London where he studied under Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Barton. He was a chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo from 1966 to 1980, at the University of Maryland from 1980 to 1982, and from 1985 until his retirement in 1996 he was Professor of Chemistry at Duke University.
In retirement Fraser-Reid founded the non-profit Natural Products/Glycotechnology Research Institute Inc., operating in Pittsboro, North Carolina, dedicated to studying carbohydrate chemistry/biology that relates to tropical parasitic diseases in Third World countries and specifically targeting the development of a carbohydrate-based vaccine to fight malaria. Some of Fraser-Reid’s earlier work focused on transforming sugars into complex noncarbohydrate compounds and linking sugars into biologically active compounds to produce oliogosaccharides which could impact the combating of devastating diseases.
Fraser-Reid’s work with pheromones led him to conclude that virtually all synthetic products derived from petroleum can be made from sugars. In 1977 he received the Merck, Sharp & Dohme Award from the Chemical Institute of Canada and in 1989 was honored with the Claude S. Hudson Award in carbohydrate chemistry from the American Chemical Society. Fraser-Reid was recognized as the Senior Distinguished U.S. Scientist by West Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1990. He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Percy Julian Award from the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers in 1991. In 1995 he was named North Carolina Chemist of the Year by the American Institute of Chemistry, given the Haworth Memorial Medal and Lectureship by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and elected Fellow of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.