Niels Andersen

Niels H. Andersen left the world peacefully on December 20, 2019 after a two-year battle with lymphoma. He retained his sharp wit, kindness, and a cheerful, uncomplaining demeanor throughout.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1943, Niels immigrated to Minnesota as a young boy. He was a true child prodigy who always loved chemistry. He obtained a B.A. from the University of Minnesota at age 20 and his Ph.D. in synthetic chemistry from Northwestern University at age 24. Niels joined the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Chemistry as its youngest ever faculty hire in 1968 after postdoctoral work at Harvard University with Nobel Laureate E.J. Corey.

For fifty years, Niels maintained a research group that published 200 peer-reviewed papers, with later work focused on designing new drugs and proteins. He taught organic chemistry to thousands of undergraduates, dashing the dreams of many aspiring pre-med students with tough tests and tougher grading. "They should know this," he often said. Graduate students held a special place in his heart, and he was a supportive and beloved mentor to many Ph.D. students.

In 1987, Niels married Susan Howell, connecting through music, Mendocino, and many Mexican adventures. Their passion for dulcimer and ukulele led them to innumerable "music camps" and publishing music books and videos. Niels and Susan traveled the world and made a lot of beautiful music together in 32 years of marriage. Niels was frequently seen wearing Hawaiian shirts and Birkenstock sandals. He loved the outdoors, ran several miles almost every morning, and climbed Mount Baker at age 73. Some wondered if Niels was even human after 50 years at the UW without taking a sick day.

Niels is survived by his beloved wife Susan, daughters Robyn and Beth from his first marriage to Sidnee Lee, five grandchildren (Christine, Kathryn, Benjamin, Anna, and Noah), and Friedrich Handel (aka Fred), his seemingly indestructible 30+ year-old Eastern box turtle.

Memorial contributions may be made to the UW Foundation for the Niels H. Andersen Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry. Please contact Diana Knight at with any questions.

Former APS President, Marcey Waters, shares, "As an assistant professor, I found myself as a competitor with Niels in the field of designed beta-hairpin peptides. I thankfully had the opportunity to meet him at an APS meeting and found that while we worked on similar things, he was more than welcoming to me. His structural insights truly advanced the field and I’m sure he still holds the record for most stable, well-folded beta-hairpin. His insights and creativity, as well as his generous spirit, will be missed by the Peptide Community."

Niels Andersen