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Herchel Smith Fund

Herchel Smith and the Fund

Herchel Smith, born in Plymouth (UK) in 1925, was a distinguished organic chemist who invented and patented new chemical reactions for the synthesis of novel steroids, including the contraceptive pill. His research interests can be traced back to his time as an undergraduate at Emmanuel College where he read for the Natural Sciences Tripos, matriculating in 1942 with distinction. He went on to study organic chemistry as a graduate student under Professor Alexander Todd and was awarded his PhD at Cambridge in 1952. He became a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University and then a lecturer in organic chemistry at Manchester University before moving to the United States to work for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. During his retirement Dr Smith endowed four Cambridge Professorships, research fellowships at Emmanuel College and joint postgraduate scholarships for Emmanuel and Harvard graduates. Herchel Smith died in West Chester (USA) in 2001 leaving substantial bequests to many of the universities and colleges he had been associated with. His bequest to Cambridge has provided financial support in perpetuity for the initiatives he previously supported and for the endowment of five new Professorships and a programme of studentships and postdoctoral fellowships.

During his lifetime and following his death in December 2001, the University received under Herchel Smith's will the largest ever individual bequest to a British University at that time.

Endowments for University of Cambridge

During his lifetime, Dr Smith endowed 4 Cambridge Professorships in Immunology, Medicinal Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Intellectual Property Law.

In his will, Dr Smith bequeathed nearly $40m to the University and Emmanuel College thanks to which various initiatives were funded:

  • 5 professorships in Pure Maths, Physics, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • 2 university lectureships in Medicinal Chemistry and Intellectual Property Law
  • PhD Research studentships, fellowships and general research in Medicinal Chemistry
  • Support to existing funds supporting the 4 professorships and 1 assistant directorship (Medicinal Chemistry) posts already endowed during his lifetime
  • Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry (built and launched in 2012)

Another $20 million was received from the residual estate in 2004, and designated to support postdoctoral research at Cambridge (Herchel Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship Program) in the fields of Organic Chemistry, Physics, Pure Mathematics, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and related fields.

The impact of Herchel Smith’s legacy in Cambridge has been immense and will continue into the future, not least because the generous endowments he provided for his professorships attract leaders in their field to Cambridge, who inspire and motivate a whole new generation of talented researchers, and the endowments for fellows and PhD students attract the future field leaders.