In memoriam: Professor Emeritus Wayland E. Noland (12/08/1926 - 10/04/2022)

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/07/2022) — Professor Emeritus Wayland E. Noland passed away on October 4, 2022 at the age of 95. He first arrived on campus 71 years ago, followed by a 64-year faculty career, giving him the distinction as the the longest-serving tenured faculty member in University of Minnesota history. For the many people whose time in Chemistry falls within Prof. Noland’s notable career, it is difficult to think of the department without him.

Noland earned his bachelor’s degree with high honors in 1948 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his parents were members of the Zoology department. He then went on to earn his master’s degree (1950) and doctorate in chemistry (1952) from Harvard University, specializing in physical organic chemistry. His roots at the University of Minnesota are deep, starting with his research as a DuPont post-doctoral fellow working with Professor Walter M. Lauer in 1951-52. He joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry in 1952, which has included serving as its interim department chair from 1967-1969. Following his retirement in December 2016, he continued to operate an active lab and research group until an injury in August 2019 prevented him from working on campus. The closure of his labs followed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“It would be almost impossible to overstate the enormous positive impact Prof. Noland had on our department, and perhaps most importantly on so many students over so many years,” according to department head Prof. David Blank. “Whenever I meet with our alumni all over the country, members of every generation, Prof. Noland is one of the first topics to come up, and this is usually followed by remarkable stories of the significant impact Prof. Noland had on their lives.”

His research focus shifted over the years to synthetic and mechanistic organic chemistry, resulting in 150 publications. Throughout the years, he made more than 7,000 chemical compounds, seeking to create one that can be used as a pharmaceutical to combat disease. His research has been in heterocyclic chemistry with a focus on indoles and other nitrogen-containing ring systems. In the latter years of his career his research was concentrated on heterocyclic nitrogen and/or sulfur chemistry, including the chemistry of nitro compounds, with emphasis on synthesis, mechanisms, and submission of compounds for testing for medicinal activity. To date, activity has been found against cancer in two classes of compounds, HIV, and tuberculosis. Emphasis was placed on the synthesis of benzofuran oxides, nitriles, isonitriles, and their analogs, to observe interactions, especially with halogens, in the crystalline state. This work was built in part on the work of the late Professor Emeritus Doyle Britton.

Faculty colleague Prof. Tom Hoye recalls that “Wayland pioneered investigations into topics as disparate as the Nef reaction, Diels-Alder reactions of nitrogen-containing heterocycles, condensative cyclization chemistries, nitroalkenes, and, of course, all-things-indole. "Mr. Indole" taught our course in heterocyclic chemistry over decades. He was a stickler for nomenclature, which I learned first-hand in his office during my interview here for a faculty position. He politely (as always) but effectively corrected my use of the jargonish ‘tosic acid’ with the comment ‘I presume you mean para-toluenesulfonic acid.’ Noted to self, it was classic Wayland, always the consummate teacher-scholar.”

Noland was self-effacing, but he has touched thousands of students. It is estimated that he has taught more than 14,000 students over the years, mentored more than 350 undergraduate students, 43 master and 46 doctoral graduate students, and about 30 post-doctoral fellows. He loved teaching and was honored in 1964 with the Institute of Technology Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2006 with the Charles E. Bowers Faculty Teaching Award. He taught his last class, “Advanced Organic Chemistry: Heterocycles,” in the spring of 2016.

 His legacy is indelibly tied to providing research opportunities to undergraduate students, supporting undergraduate researchers in his lab along with Project SEED students and fellowships in the summer. He was director of the department’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Undergraduate Research Program for 11 straight years, including 11 summers and four academic years from 1959 to 1970, and the NSF-Research Experiences for Undergraduates program from 1987 to 1993, including six summers with 193 summer and 35 academic year participants.

 He fostered strong connections with the many alumni of the Noland group. The combination of his science, his unique personality and his steadfast support of his students is what prompts so many former group members to cite the experience with Noland as a formative step in their careers. Noland loved to fish, as evidenced by annual summer trips with his research group to Lake Bertha near Pequot Lakes, MN.

His natural gift for maintaining relationships with many students, staff and faculty colleagues made Noland a first point of contact on the history and people of the department. He worked closely on alumni and donor relations with the College of Science & Engineering’s Kathy Peters-Martell who works on department fundraising efforts. Six semesters of economics as an undergraduate student led Noland to an interest in investing. His success on this front allowed him to become a major supporter of each of his alma maters. At the University of Minnesota he enthusiastically created multiple undergraduate student scholarships and graduate student fellowships over the past 45 years. “My gifts have always been to help students become better students and better citizens as a result of their education at the University,” he once explained.

Noland had a natural curiosity about things and how they work. He was a long-time collector of just about anything, including dumpster-diving for interesting finds. He was passionate that things should not be wasted, especially things that can be recycled. This extended to his teaching freshman seminar courses on recycling processes. For decades it was common to find him digging for cans and other treasures, which led to dramatic experiences such as having to do a backflip out of a dumpster which tilted toward him on a slope. There were many times he has been offered money, which he would decline with thanks when people saw him looking in the garbage.

He was interested in the weather. As a high school student, Noland was one of 40 winners in the 1944 Westinghouse National Science Search, honored for his research on “Amateur Weather Forecasting.” Winners received an expense-paid trip to a national meeting in Washington, D.C., where they met Eleanor Roosevelt on the steps of the White House for a photo, and Vice President Henry Agard Wallace.

 One of Noland’s long-time service commitments was to Organic Syntheses Inc., a non-profit that publishes organic chemistry books and information on an open access website. Noland had been involved with this organization since 1969, serving as secretary, vice president, and editor of Collective Volume 6, which is about 1,200 pages.

He was also active with the Minnesota Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) for 48 years, serving as its chair in 1970, and as a councilor for 21 years or alternate councilor for 11 years, which meant being a delegate to the ACS Council and attending its national meetings. He worked on local elections (1990-2004), serving as an election judge for 13 years in his neighborhoods of Prospect Park and Seward. He also served on the East River Gorge Citizens Advisory Committee (1990-1994), working to make improvements and preserve the river area so others can enjoy its amenities. He was a consultant in petroleum technology and heterocyclic chemistry for the Sun Oil Co. in Marcus Hook, PA, for 11 years (1958-1970).

Noland believed in service. “I have always believed that my purpose in life is to do good in many ways,” he said in 2016, “particularly, if that is creating something useful for the future.”

Noland once offered advice for students to “make up your mind what you want to do, pursue it with vigor, and try to do public service on the outside.” And for his colleagues, “Be friendly, stop by each other’s office and say ‘Hi’ if the door is open, and take an interest in each other’s activities as widely as possible.”

In a 2007 interview Noland stated “I hope that I will, in a favorable way, live on in the memories of the people I’ve been associated with and those I have helped.”

Watch video of Prof. Noland's memorial service HERE.
View the slideshow from the memorial service HERE.

Share memories, stories and pictures about Prof. Noland HERE

We would like to connect with Noland group alumni. A short survey is HERE

An open visit format memorial and visitation will be held:

3:00pm to 6:00pm

Gill Brothers Funeral Home
5801 Lyndale Avenue South

Minneapolis, MN 55416

The funeral home has posted an obituary at this link, which will also run in the StarTribune on 10/09/2022.