Ralph N. "Buzz" Adams

cartoon image of Ralph Adams piloting an airplane

Buzz in the air (image commissioned by Donald Leedy)

cartoon image of Ralph Adams experimenting in lab

Buzz in the lab (image commissioned by Donald Leedy)

cartoon image of Ralph Adams sitting on counter in lab

Buzz in his element (image commissioned by Donald Leedy)

Ralph N. Adams was born August 26, 1924, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Leo and Luetta (Leeds) Adams. He began his college education before World War II, but was drafted into the Chemical Warfare Service in 1942. He had always harbored a desire to fly, however, and joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. He piloted B-17s and B-29s as a first lieutenant with the US Army Air Corps in the Pacific, which earned him his life-long nickname, Buzz.

After the war, he returned to his education, earning his bachelors degree in Chemistry from Rutgers in 1950. In 1953 he received his Ph.D. from Princeton, where he remained as an instructor for two years. He joined the faculty of KU in 1955, where he focused his research on organic electrochemistry. His research interests until 1969 centered on electro-oxidations at solid electrodes and the mechanisms of organic electrode reactions. in 1964 he was a J. S. Guggenheim Fellow in Zurich, Switzerland, doing research in EPR-electrochemistry at Varian AG and the Eldgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH). Adams' research proved the existence of "free radicals" in the human body, which earned him several awards. He was named a University Distinguished Professor in 1965.

In 1969, Adams shifted the focus of his research to neuroscience, tracking neurotransmitters and neurochemicals involved in schizophrenia. Adams spent a sabbatical leave in the Department of Psychobiology, University of California, Irvine, in 1970, where he received fundamental training in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, etc. Adams' research in this area led to the discovery that the brain's halves have different chemical make ups.

From 1978-1982 he served as a Professor of Neurobehavioral Sciences at the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka. Over the course of his career, Professor Adams was awarded the J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964, Fisher Award in Analytical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1982, C. N. Reilley Award for Electroanalytical Chemistry in 1984, I. M. Kolthoff Gold Medal Award from the American Pharmaceutical Society in 1985, Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, American Chemical Society National Award in Electrochemistry in 1989, and Oesper Award in 1996. Professor Adams was among the first scientists to receive a Higuchi Award for Excellence in Basic Sciences. He held joint appointments in the Chemistry Department, the Department of Biochemistry, the Department of Psychiatry, and the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Dr. Adams was ahead of his time in the strong emphasis he placed on multidisciplinary research and collaborations with researchers in disciplines outside of chemistry. The work currently underway at the Ralph N. Adams Institute for Bioanalytical Chemistry is for the most part multidisciplinary, involving faculty and affiliated scientists from Chemistry, Molecular Biosciences, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Chemical & Petroleum Engineering.

"He was a magnificent scientist and an exceptional human being," said Ted Kuwana, a KU distinguished professor of chemistry. "He lived what he believed in ...uppermost was his integrity and belief in values." "Ralph was an inspiration to everybody," said Craig Lunte, professor of chemistry at KU. "I've never known a scientist who was that dedicated to knowledge. Dr. Adams' love for science and enthusiasm for academia influenced countless students during his life," Lunte said. "There are Adams students all over the country. I myself am a second-generation Adams student." Buzz Adams retired in 1992 and died in 2002.