TSRI Professor Wins Wolf Prize in Chemistry

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) Professor K. Barry Sharpless, Ph.D., has won the 2001 Wolf Prize in Chemistry. Sharpless, who has been with TSRI since 1990, and holds a joint appointment in The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, is cited by the Wolf Prize jury for his "pioneering, creative, and crucial work in developing asymmetric catalysis for the synthesis of chiral molecules, greatly increasing mankind’s ability to create new products of fundamental and practical importance."

Chirality, or handedness, is the structural characteristic of a molecule that makes it impossible to superimpose it 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 cases, the wrong handedness can be toxic.

In 1980, Sharpless reported a breakthrough in synthesizing chiral molecules. His method—the highly enantioselective epoxidation of allylic alcohols catalyzed by a titanium complex—is of broad scope and is now used routinely. More recently, Sharpless developed another useful method—the asymmetric dihydroxylation of alkenes catalyzed by an osmium complex.

Sharpless shares the Wolf Prize with Professor Henri B. Kagan, Ph.D., University of Paris-South, France, and Professor Ryoji Noyori, Ph.D., Nagoya University, Japan, who worked independently in the same field.

The Israel-based Wolf Foundation, established by the late German-born inventor, diplomat, and philanthropist Ricardo Wolf, gives annual awards to outstanding scientists and artists. Previous recipients of the prize include TSRI’s President Richard Lerner, M.D., and Professor Peter Schultz, Ph.D. This year’s awards will be presented by the president of the Israel at a special ceremony in May.


Professor K. Barry Sharpless will receive his award from the president of the Israel in May.