A New Classic Arrives
By Jason Socrates Bardi
A few years ago, Scott Snyder was settling into the fall
semester of his senior year at Williams College in Williamstown,
Massachusetts, and his thoughts were some 3,000 miles away.
Surrounded by the gorgeous fall foliage on the Williams
campus near the Vermont and New York borders, Snyder was nevertheless
engrossed in a book that was written a few years prior on
the temperate, California campus of The Scripps Research Institute
Titled Classics in Total Synthesis by TSRI's K.C.
Nicolaou and Erik J. Sorensen (now at Princeton University),
the book detailed several modern examples of the "total synthesis"
or construction of an organic compound from precursor molecules
in the laboratoryresearch that has often been compared
to Herculean tasks.
"Reading this book was a strong driving force for me to
come to TSRI," says Snyder. Presently a fifth year graduate
student in TSRI's Kellogg School of Science and Technology,
he immediately chose to study synthetic organic chemistry
under Nicolaou, who is chair of TSRI's Department of Chemistry
and holds the Aline W. and L.S. Skaggs Professorship of Chemical
Biology and the Darlene Shiley Chair in Chemistry.
Now, four years later, Snyder is coauthor with Nicolaou
of a new bookClassics in Total Synthesis II (2003,
Wiley)the sequel to the text that first steered his
Milestones in Science and Publishing
The total synthesis of organic compounds dates back to 1828,
when Friedrich Wohler first combined cyanic acid with ammonium
carbonate in a test tube to make urea. But it took much of
the 20th century for the field to grow to its present, powerful
In the foreword to the new book, Nobel laureate E.J. Corey
of Harvard University, who was Nicolaou's postdoctoral advisor,
says that the first book "...stands as a milestone to mark
the closing of the 20th century, which encompassed both the
birth of the field and its growth to one of the most intellectually
fulfilling and practically important areas of modern science."
Classics in Total Synthesis II takes up where the
previous volume left off, and covers the reactions and synthetic
methods that have come of age since the publication of Classics
in Total Synthesis.
One of the new compounds featured is the anticancer compound
diazonamide A, which Nicolaou, Snyder, and several members
of the group synthesized last year. A picture of this natural
product and the sea creature from which it was discovered,
the colonial ascidian diazona angulata, adorns the
Twenty other complex natural products are also described
in Classics in Total Synthesis II, including several
others from the Nicolaou group, two molecules tackled by TSRI
investigator Dale L. Boger, and one synthesized by former
TSRI Professor Erik J. Sorensen. Mention is also made of several
important synthetic discoveries that have emanated locally
from the TSRI groups of M. Reza Ghadiri, Kim D. Janda, Subhash
Sinha, and K. Barry Sharpless.
For each compound, the book carefully describes the synthetic
route from chemical precursors to the final product, focusing
special attention on the novel strategies and tactics that
were employed. Each chapter ends with a lengthy bibliography,
which is intended to enhance the pedagogic value of the book
to all of its readersprofessors, graduate students,
advanced undergraduates, and researchers in chemical industryby
providing primary references for further enrichment.
Ultimately, say Nicolaou and Snyder, the goal is not only
to present these classic examples as historical achievements
of what can be accomplished in the laboratory, but, hopefully,
to inspire the next generation of synthetic chemists on whose
shoulders lie the responsibility of pushing the boundaries
of the field even further.
A Sign of Things to Come
Last month, Nicolaou and Snyder held a book signing sponsored
by their publishers at the American Chemical Society meeting
in New York City. They were met with lines of students and
teachers eagerly waiting to get their hands on an advanced
copy of Classics in Total Synthesis II.
Nicolaou and Snyder joke that while it took a year and a
half for them to put the book together, they sold out all
their advanced copies in less than half an hour.
The success of this signing could not have been more thrilling
for Nicolaou and Snyder, because most of the copies were purchased
by students who were attending the meeting. It was in the
spirit of educating these very students that Nicolaou and
Snyder picked up their pens in the first place.
"It's important for us [as scientists] to motivate, inspire,
educate and train," says Nicolaou. "We must think about the
next generation of scientists."
Copies of Classics in Total Synthesis II will be
available from the publisher, Wiley-VCH, and should be delivered
by the end of October.