Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keith Fagnou - Eternal Authorship

If you died tomorrow, would someone continue your work?
...even up to publication?

Prof. Keith Fagnou
Credit: U. of Ottawa
This thought gave me pause yesterday, as I browsed through journal contents and realized that Prof. Keith Fagnou, formerly of the University of Ottawa, was still publishing well into 2012.

For those unaware: Fagnou passed away unexpectedly in November 2009 after a short bout with H1N1 flu, only 38 years old. His research group, dubbed "The Fagnou Factory," kept coming to work, and kept publishing.

Between 2010-2012, despite Fagnou's death, he authored nearly 20 publications (and counting!). And these aren't retrospectives or reviews, but deep mechanistic and methodological studies, which landed in high-end places like Org. Syn., JACS, and Angewandte Chemie. 

So what's the secret to Fagnou's seemingly eternal success?

First, it pays to work in a "hot" scientific area. In the mid 2000's, C-H activation chemistry was booming, and KF was among the vanguard. From direct Pd-catalyzed arylations of pyridine N-oxides and alkylations of perfluoroaromatics, to Rh(III) cyclizations and explorations into -OPiv metal coordination, Fagnou's research had just begun to take off.

Second, his beloved "Factory" really seemed to love him back. Over his seven-year career at Ottawa, Fagnou mentored 4 postdocs, 24 graduate students, and 22 undergrads, many of whom would later stay on with him to pursue their doctoral degrees. After Keith's death, his group members organized a symposium in his honor, and even assembled a "Chuck Norris legends"-type tribute to him, in a mock JACS template.

I briefly met with Keith after a seminar, and he told us stories of his time as a schoolteacher and hilarious blooper-reel recaps of his time in the Canadian Navy. Everyone at the table felt his enthusiasm for chemistry (and life in general) really got him out of bed in the morning, and inspired others to do the same.

Here's to continued Keith's continued success; if I see an abstract in 2020, I'll hardly be surprised.

Update (2/15/12, 7:30) - Almost forgot this mini-review, published over at Chemistry Blog about a year ago. Derek's post on Keith generated an overwhelmingly supportive row of comments.

1 comment:

  1. I only heard about Prof. Fagnou very recently, but still I was amazed of all the praise and tribute he received from dedications in papers, mentions in conferences...
    Then I thought there still must be a place for good guys in high-quality research. It's easy to think that the best publishing teams are led by very demanding, if not bullying researchers, and it feels great to see how the enthusiam of a man can move his fellows and students for so long.