John K. Snyder Profile Photo
1951 John 2023

John K. Snyder

March 29, 1951 — November 13, 2023

Harvard

John Snyder, age 72, passed peacefully surrounded by his family and friends at home on November 13, 2023. John is survived by his devoted wife and companion of 36 years, Julie, and loving daughters, Tracy and Nikki, Anacristina Maia, his 5 siblings and their beloved spouses, and his many nieces, nephews, and their families.


John completed his B.S. in Chemistry at Denison University, his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the University of Chicago, and Postdoctoral Fellowship at Columbia University. John joined Boston University as an Assistant Professor in 1983 and served on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry for 39 years. His expertise covered physical organic, synthetic organic, and natural product chemistry in a way that made him stand out among his colleagues. His development of Inverse-Demand Diels-Alder reactions to make complex molecules has been used by researchers around the world for the past 2 decades. John was without a doubt the world's expert in a molecule called betulin, which is isolated from the bark of the birch tree. In the test tube, betulin demonstrates anti-cancer properties against a variety of tumors and decreases the biosynthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids. Even though his research focus and publications never explicitly state this, John's colleagues and students will attest that his knowledge and use of NMR for determination of molecular structure was unparalleled.


John was immensely dedicated to any student interested in chemistry. It was no surprise that he was awarded BU’s prestigious Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1989. His unwavering commitment to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students (including those not in his group) alike was recognized and honored with the student nominated Templeton Prize for Excellence in Student Advising in 2009. At BU, John has taught over 10,000 students and personally mentored over 100 undergraduates, 23 masters’ students, 27 doctoral students, and 7 postdoctoral associates. He established and served as co-Director of the chemistry REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program, where his passion for learning and research inspired more than 120 students from under-resourced populations to pursue further education and careers in the sciences. When asked what work he was most proud of throughout his career, he responded, “In retrospect, I'm far prouder of my teaching than I am my research because I've come to realize that that's where one really makes an impact - getting younger people motivated to pursue careers. Society moves forward as a whole, no single person changes the world. It's important that we all move forward together and not leave people without resources behind.” He continued this work after his retirement in 2022 as Professor Emeritus.


John’s dedication to fostering students’ interests in the sciences led to his establishment of the Phyllis D. Snyder BU IMPACTS Fund. The Fund provides access to the sciences to underserved students of all ages and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion through participation in summer STEM immersion programs.


While academics defined his career, outdoor activities from gardening to sports happily satiated his recreational time. The house was filled with seedlings by late winter and from spring to fall, John’s vegetable gardens produced bountiful harvests that he loved to share with friends. In addition to working the land, John cultivated a coexistence with the local beavers who often threatened to flood the driveway. 


John also passionately ran throughout his life, completing countless road races and 4 marathons including the Boston Marathon twice. He made long-lasting, personal connections with fellow runners who shared his love of moving fast, training, and racing. At his suggestion, in the summer of 2012 John and his two daughters embarked on a cross-country bike trip from Boston to San Francisco, supported by his wife. He would later say that this trip was his proudest accomplishment, above any work from his career.


Above all else, John loved his family. His wife, Julie, who he affectionately called “Jule,” was the love of his life with whom he would collaborate on everything from farm-to-table growing, preserving, cooking & eating to extensive family road trips, which took them up and down the east coast, to the Grand Canyon, and through many provinces of Canada. His daughters, Tracy and Nikki, or “Ace” and “Nik” as he called them, shared his love of adventure and exploration. Together the family ran, hiked, kayaked, and biked, delighting in nature, the science of their surroundings, and the beauty of the outdoors. John’s deep love for his family, joy in the great outdoors, and never-ending curiosity ensured he lived life to the fullest.


A memorial service will be held December 16, 2023 at 1:30 pm at the Harvard Congregational Church in Harvard, MA. To honor John’s individuality and preferred attire, the dress code will diverge from tradition and be casual-comfortable, preferably jeans and a plaid button-down. A Celebration of Life and Work will also be held June 15, 2024 at 2 pm at the Boston University Center for Computing and Data Sciences building. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that contributions be made to the newly renamed John Snyder and Phyllis Snyder BU IMPACTS Fund, where proceeds will continue his work in supporting underserved students in STEM disciplines. Donations can be made here: https://tinyurl.com/SnyderFund

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Service Schedule

Upcoming Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

Boston University Center for Computing and Data Sciences (CDS)

665 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

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Past Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Starts at 1:30 pm (Eastern time)

Congregational Church of Harvard

5 Still River Rd, Harvard, MA 01451

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