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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 17 (2012) pp 226-232
DOI 10.1007/s00897122453

William S. Knowles (1917–2012), Nobel Laureate and Pioneer in Asymmetric Synthesis: An Obituary-Tribute

George B. Kauffman*and Jean-Pierre Adloff

Department of Chemistry, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740-8034,; Honorary Professor, Université de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France F-67100,

Published: 30 November 2012

Abstract. William Standish Knowles (1917–2012), winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the oldest living Nobel chemistry laureate, died in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, on June 13, 2012 of the complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lew Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 95. In 2001, at the age of 84, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University, Japan; the other half was awarded to Karl Barry Sharpless of Stanford University. His life and career are reviewed with an emphasis on his contributions to the synthesis of chiral compounds directly by his use of asymmetric synthesis without the need for laborious, expensive, and wasteful optical resolutions that led to the commercial preparation of numerous crucial drugs. The objections of French proponents for the inclusion of Henri Kagan in the Nobel Prize are discussed.

Key Words: Chemistry and History; Nobel Prizes; Nobel controversies; biography; chiral molecules; chiral catalysis; asymmetric synthesis; organic chemistry; industrial chemistry; drug manufacturing; L-DOPA; phosphines; Parkinson’s disease; chemistry in France; nationalism in science

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

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