sealPurdue News

September 19, 1997

New name for agriculture building honors Purdue researcher

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Roy L. Whistler's resume is a lengthy one. The list of the Purdue University researcher's degrees, appointments, awards, honors, memberships, publications, consultancies and board memberships runs over five pages, a testimonial to a full and productive career.

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"Yes, I was a busy boy," Whistler said recently, and he's not about to slow down now.

The 85-year-old professor emeritus now has a building named in his honor on Purdue's West Lafayette campus. Purdue's Board of Trustees Friday (9/19) approved changing the name of the 3-story Agricultural Research Building to the Roy L. Whistler Hall of Agricultural Research. The building originally was dedicated in 1983.

Whistler is the Hillenbrand Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry Emeritus and a world renowned carbohydrate chemist, having written more than 500 scientific papers. Whistler has also written or edited 15 books and holds 21 patents in the field of carbohydrate research.

"Certainly he's recognized as a giant in his field," said Phil Nelson, head of Purdue's food science department. "He was a forerunner in using basic science to create important value-added products we all take for granted today."

In addition to his pioneering work on the uses of carbohydrates, he was actively involved in the synthesis of high-intensity sweeteners and drugs, said Bill Baumgardt, director of Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue. "For more than 40 years, he has been 'Mr. Polysaccharide' throughout the world," Baumgardt said. A polysaccharide is a type of carbohydrate.

Whistler spent the years during World War II in a lab where he helped develop a mass-produced penicillin used in the treatment of thousands of military casualties. He is best known for his work in the industrial use of agricultural products. He helped develop the use of guar gum, which gives whipped toppings and ice cream a creamy texture, and starch amylose, a substance used to make hard, translucent gum drops.

His name also appears on The Roy L. Whistler International Award in Carbohydrates, a $10,000 award given every two years by the International Carbohydrate Organization, and on the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research at Purdue.

But Whistler admits the latest award ranks right at the top of his lifetime of achievements.

"To have a building named after me in a town where I've lived most of my life, this is just super," he said.

Whistler earned his bachelor's degree from Heidelberg (Ohio) College, in his hometown of Tiffin, Ohio, in 1934. "I didn't have enough money to get out of town," he said. "It was the Depression and we didn't have any money, so I went to Heidelberg."

Whistler did attempt to leave town, though. As a high school senior, Whistler's essay "The Relation of Chemistry to National Defense" earned him a $20 gold piece as the winner of the Garvan Essay competition in Ohio. Whistler traded the gold piece for a train ticket to visit the University of Chicago, found it not to his liking, and returned to Heidelberg.

Whistler earned a master's degree from Ohio State University in 1935 and a doctorate from Iowa State in 1938. His Purdue career began as an assistant professor in 1946.

"I've enjoyed everything I've ever done," Whistler said. "It never felt like work, it has always been a lot of fun."

Sources: Roy L. Whistler, (765) 494-1654
Phil Nelson, (765) 494-8256
Writer: Tom Campbell, (765) 494-8084; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo caption:
Purdue's Agricultural Research Building has been renamed the Roy L. Whistler Hall of Agricultural Research in honor of a professor emeritus internationally known for his work as a carbohydrate chemist and for the industrial use of agricultural products. Whistler is shown here in the Whistler Center for Carbohydrates in the newly-renamed building. The university established the Whistler Center in 1986 in its Department of Food Science. (Purdue Agicultural Communication Service Photo by Tom Campbell)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Whistler/Building
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