June 12, 2009

Biochemist Emil L. Smith dead at 97

Emil L. Smith, a biochemist who led the first U.S. scientific delegation to China, has died in Los Angeles. He was 97.

Smith died May 31 from complications following a heart attack, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Smith chaired the University of California, Los Angeles department of biological chemistry and was picked by President Richard Nixon to lead the first U.S. scientific delegation to China in 1973, the Times reported.

Smith pioneered the process of determining the structure of proteins, his work proving instrumental in providing some of the earliest evidence for Darwinian evolution of proteins, said Ralph Bradshaw, a biochemist at the University of California, Irvine.

Smith, born in New York to Russian immigrants, received his bachelor's degree in 1931 and his doctorate in chemistry in 1936, both degrees from Columbia University.

In 1963, Smith was named chair of UCLA's department of biological chemistry and in 1965 he founded UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute.

Smith, a widower, was survived by two sons, J. Donald Smith of Cambridge, Mass., and Jeffrey Smith of Santa Monica, Calif., both of whom followed him into research.