Robert G. Denkewalter attended Loyola University Chicago during his undergraduate career, whilst majoring in Chemistry. He continued his study and research at the University of Chicago, earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry.
After receiving his doctorate degree, Dr. Denkewalter joined the research laboratories of Merck Sharp & Dohme as a research chemist. In 1969, as executive director of research, he led a team in an effort to synthesize an enzymatic material possessing significant ribonuclease activity. Their goal was met with success and the material found immediate commercial application.
Seeking to reward Dr. Denkewalter for this achievement, the Merck Co. bestowed a monetary award in recognition. Dr. Denkewalter allocated the award to Loyola University Chicago in honor of Professor Frank Cassaretto—his former chemistry professor—in hopes that the award would be used to promote the sciences of chemistry and medicine at Loyola.
The Denkewalter Award has since supported the lecture series, which originally alternated between Loyola's Department of Chemistry and the College of Medicine. The lecture was started in 1970, with Dr. Denkewalter himself presenting the first lecture. Since 1978, the Denkewalter Lectureship has resided solely in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. The Lectureship selects a recipient of the ACS Pure Chemistry Award, or the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, to be the guest lecturer.
The Denkewalter Lecturer for 2017 is Dr. Elizabeth Nolan, from the Department of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Nolan was the recipient of the prestigious Eli Lily Award in Biologoical Chemistry, for 2016.