News, On Campus, Academics

Remembering Chemistry Professor Larry W. McLaughlin

Chemistry professor Larry W. McLaughlin, who taught at Boston College for 34 years before he died in November, was an “all-around talent,” according to Jianmin Gao.

“He was passionate about pretty much everything,” Gao, a fellow professor of chemistry, said. “He was a great and creative scientist [and] had always been working on the very frontiers of bioorganic chemistry, more specifically relating to nuclear acids.”

McLaughlin began teaching at BC in 1985 after receiving his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Alberta. He served as chair of the chemistry department from 1998 to 2001 before stepping up as University vice provost for research and academic planning from 2010 to 2013. McLaughlin retired from BC in 2019 and battled Parkinson’s disease up until his death, according to Wang.

According to Dunwei Wang, current chair of the chemistry department, McLaughlin served on the space committee at the Merkert Chemistry Center, on which he helped allocate space in the building for research.

“He knew the building in and out,” Wang said. “So he actually really kind of played an instrumental rule in keeping research going by providing proper support and space.”

According to Wang, McLaughlin studied DNA, specifically focusing on the interactions between ligands and proteins.

Gao said McLaughlin was heavily involved in building up the chemical biology subdivision of the chemistry department and that he was a “terrific mentor” for his younger colleagues.

“He really spent a lot of time helping younger colleagues—like myself at that point—to get through the most difficult and perhaps the most confusing times of our career,” Gao said.

Both Wang and Gao said McLaughlin was very knowledgeable and kind. The two said they would have tea or lunch with McLaughlin several times a week.

“We would sit down and then talk for about 15, 20 minutes, sometimes a little longer, sometimes shorter,” Wang said. “This is at least three, five times a week. So through these conversations, we became very close friends.”

The last course McLaughlin taught at BC was a natural science core-fulfilling class called Chemistry in the Kitchen.

“His energy and his interests goes beyond just chemistry,” Gao said. “And that’s reflected in his later teaching of Chemistry in the Kitchen and you know, in the marketplace—that course integrated daily life and relevance of chemistry to people’s daily lives.”

Before McLaughlin’s final departure from BC in 2019, the chemistry department held a retirement party for him. Over 100 people attended the party, including a Nobel Prize-winner, according to Gao.

“That was a fantastic celebration of Larry’s career,” Gao said. “Not only the scientists, but his students showed up … close to all of his earlier students showed up to celebrate his mentorship.”

As a senior member of the department, McLaughlin worked well with everyone and helped bring people together, Wang said.

“He was a great departmental citizen, kind of holding the department together,” he said.

January 28, 2024