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Raymond "Sugar Ray" Lemieux (1920-2000)

Lemieux with a carbohydrate modelDr. Raymond Urgel Lemieux devoted his life to education and research, and through his efforts, helped to illuminate the once obscure science of carbohydrates.

Lemieux was born in Lac La Biche, Alberta June 16, 1920. When he was six, his family moved to Edmonton settling in the Boyle Street area, "an Irish-French-Ukrainian ghetto where the main challenge was to avoid associations that could lead to reform school," writes Lemieux in his autobiography, Explorations with Sugars. A self-described "poor boy from the sticks", he was brought up mostly by his oldest sister. His mother died when Lemieux was seven and their father was often out of town doing carpentry work. Though his favourite subject in school was chemistry, the budding scientist had aspirations of playing in the NHL. After less than a season with the Edmonton Junior Hockey League, he gave up his dream in 1936.

His fallback was, not surprisingly, science, and four years after choosing a major in chemistry, he graduated with an honours degree from the University of Alberta in 1943.

Having received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from McGill University in 1946, Lemieux was awarded a post-doctoral scholarship to study the structure streptomycin at Ohio State University. It was here he met his wife, Virginia (née McConaghie, with whom he had six children) and where he embarked on what would become the groundwork for his future career in research.

Lemieux then joined the University of Saskatchewan, working as an assistant professor for two years. While working at the National Research Council in Saskatoon, he and a post-doctoral fellow became the first scientists to synthesize sucrose, ordinary sugar, in 1953. A year later, he was invited to help build a new chemistry department at the University of Ottawa, and to serve as the Dean of pure and applied science.

Dr. Raymond Lemieux, the first scientist to synthesize sucroseHe returned to Edmonton in 1961 to become a professor and chairman of the division of organic chemistry at the University of Alberta. Among other achievements, Lemieux was the first to synthesize oligosaccarides, a sugar that coats red blood cells.

Throughout his career, Lemieux established several biochemical companies including R & L Molecular Research Ltd., which he founded with his brother in 1962.

Jeffery I. Seeman, editor of Lemieux's autobiography wrote of his collegue, "Lemieux has three "likes". He likes to be right. He likes to laugh. And he likes to eat! Lemieux can do all three at the same time."

"The Gunning/Lemieux Chemistry Centre" was unveiled at the University of Alberta in November 2001.

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