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K. Barry Sharpless is Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
K. Barry Sharpless, Ph.D.
KBarry Sharpless, Ph.D., W.M. Keck Professor of Chemistry and member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics, and peace, the Nobel prizes recognize individuals who, as stipulated in Alfred Nobel's will, "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." Sharpless was awarded this year's prize in chemistry along with William S. Knowles, formerly of Monsanto, and Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University in Japan for "the development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis."
"We are obviously delighted that Dr. Sharpless has received this recognition," said TSRI President Richard Lerner. He has been recognized for his extraordinary work by the scientific community for many years and has been acknowledged by the philanthropic community, most notably Sam and Aline Skaggs, whose contributions have enabled him to achieve many research breakthroughs."
Sharpless contributed innovations to the development of broadly useful and commercially practical catalytic oxidation chemistry for the selective production of bioactive chiral molecules with the proper right- or left-handedness.
Chirality, or handedness, is the structural characteristic of a molecule that makes it impossible to superimpose the molecule on its mirror image. Proteins, DNA, and carbohydrates are all chiral molecules; without the correct handedness, they will not function as the basic molecules of life. Many drugs must also be of correct chirality; indeed, in some instances, the molecules with the wrong chirality can be toxic. Sharpless's methods allow the manufacture of safer and more effective antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, heart medicines, and agricultural chemicals.
In 1980, Sharpless reported a breakthrough in synthesizing chiral molecules: the highly enantioselective epoxidation of allylic alcohols catalyzed by a titanium complex. This method is now used routinely. More recently, Sharpless developed another useful method, the asymmetric dihydroxylation of alkenes catalyzed by an osmium complex. In fact, the Sharpless asymmetric epoxidation, dihydroxylation, and aminohydroxylation methods have revolutionized organic chemistry by transforming asymmetric synthesis from nearly impossible to routine.
Sharpless received his B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1963 and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1968. In 1970, after postdoctoral studies at Stanford and Harvard universities, he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After 3 years at Stanford in the late 1970s, he returned to MIT as the Arthur C. Cope Professor of Chemistry. He joined TSRI's faculty in 1991. Sharpless was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985.
Other significant honors include the Tetrahedron Prize; the American Chemical Society's Award for Creative Work in Organic Synthesis and the Arthur C. Cope Award; the Prelog Medal (Switzerland); the Janssen Prize (Belgium); the Scheele Medal (Sweden); the King Faisal International Prize for Science (Saudi Arabia); the Roger Adams Award in Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society; the Harvey Prize of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Science; and most recently, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and the Benjamin Franklin Medal. Also, Sharpless was listed among the "Top 75 Contributors to the Chemical Enterprise," in the 75 years since the founding of Chemical & Engineering News.