Chemistry + Family Ties = Enduring UW Support

A loyal Madisonian, Steve Yamamoto ’65 grew up very proud to be a Wisconsinite — it was where his father, Shinji Yamamoto, was offered a job after he was freed from a Japanese internment camp in Utah during World War II. Shinji became a state architect who managed construction for many important state and UW buildings. Steve’s mother, Hifumi, worked for University Housing and was a familiar and beloved figure on campus. Consummate Badgers, Steve and his siblings, Diane ’68 and JoAnn ’75, all earned their bachelor’s degrees in chemistry from UW–Madison before going on to get their doctoral degrees in the field. It was that enduring connection to the UW that led to their family’s philanthropic passion.

After a very successful career, Steve retired to Palm Beach, FL, in 2003, where he worked as an adjunct professor of chemistry at two community colleges. He was diagnosed with cancer three years later and chose to construct and maintain a Japanese restorative garden to assist with his own battle and to help others as well. Steve passed away in 2019, but his family’s legacy lives on at the UW with the creation of the Yamamoto Family Professor of Chemistry. This generously endowed professorship allows the department to recruit and retain outstanding faculty members.

Gifted chemist AJ Boydston joined the UW Department of Chemistry as an associate professor in 2018 and was named the first Yamamoto Family Professor of Chemistry in 2020. His research group is primarily focused on organic and polymer chemistry. “Our work provides new fundamental knowledge about how molecular structure impacts materials properties and unlocks avenues to new materials capabilities,” shares Boydston. “I hope that someday our research can be used to enable societal advances such as personalized 3D-printed medical devices, high toughness lightweight vehicles, self-repairing plastics, and safer platforms for drug delivery.”

Boydston was drawn to the university’s outstanding science and opportunities for collaboration. “The Yamamoto Family Professorship is a generous show of support and faith in our department’s mission,” he shares. “It’s a way to carry on a legacy of excellence in science as well as humanity. As I learn more about the history of the Yamamoto family and their motivations for creating the professorship, it encourages me to take note of my roles on campus, as a mentor, educator, and researcher, and how I might be able to serve in the spirit of their name.”