Karl Barry Sharpless

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Karl Barry Sharpless
Born (1941-04-28) April 28, 1941 (age 77)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materDartmouth College
Stanford University
Harvard University
Known forenantioselective synthesis, click chemistry
AwardsPriestley Medal (2019)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2001)
Wolf Prize (2001)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2001)
Rylander Award (2000)
Chemical Sciences Award (2000)
Chirality Medal (2000)
Rhone Poulenc Medal (2000)
Harvey Prize (1998)
Microbial Chemistry Medal (1997)
King Faisal International Prize (1995)
Cliff Hamilton Award (1995)
Tetrahedron Prize (1993)
Centenary Lectureship Medal (1993)
Arthur C. Cope Award (1992)
Scheele Award (1991)
Chemical Pioneer Award (1988)
Dr. Paul Janssen Prize (1986)
Allan Day Award (1985)
Scientific career
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
The Scripps Research Institute
ThesisStudies of the mechanism of action of 2,3-oxidosqualene-lanosterol cyclase: featuring enzymic cyclization of modified squalene oxides (1968)
Doctoral advisorEugene van Tamelen

Karl Barry Sharpless (born April 28, 1941) is an American chemist known for his work on stereoselective reactions. He is a recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


Early years[edit]

Sharpless was born April 28, 1941 in Philadelphia, PA. He graduated from Friends' Central School in 1959. He continued his studies at Dartmouth College earning an A.B. in 1963 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University in 1968.[1] He continued post-doctoral work at Stanford University (1968–1969) and Harvard University (1969–1970). He holds honorary degrees from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (1995) Technical University of Munich (1995), Catholic University Louvain, Belgium (1996) and Weselyan University (1999).[2] He was blinded in one eye during a lab accident in 1970, shortly after he arrived at MIT as an assistant professor.[3]

Academic career[edit]

Sharpless has been a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1970–1977, 1980–1990) and Stanford University (1977–1980)[2] He currently holds the W. M. Keck professorship in chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute (1990-)


Sharpless developed stereoselective oxidation reactions, and showed that the formation of an inhibitor with femtomolar potency can be catalyzed by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, beginning with an azide and an alkyne. He discovered several chemical reactions which have transformed asymmetric synthesis from science fiction to the relatively routine, including aminohydroxylation, dihydroxylation, and the Sharpless asymmetric epoxidation.[4]

In 2001 he won a half-share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on chirally catalysed oxidation reactions (Sharpless epoxidation, Sharpless asymmetric dihydroxylation, Sharpless oxyamination). The other half of the year's Prize was shared between William S. Knowles and Ryōji Noyori (for their work on stereoselective hydrogenation).[5]

He also successfully epoxidized (using racemic tartaric acid) a C-86 Buckminster Fullerene ball, employing p-Cresol as solvent. More recently he has been an important figure in the new field of click chemistry.[6] This involves a set of highly selective, exothermic reactions which occur under mild conditions; the most successful example is the azide alkyne Huisgen cycloaddition to form 1,2,3-triazoles.

Personal life[edit]

Sharpless married Jan Dueser on April 28, 1965. They have three children; Hannah (b. 1976), William (b. 1978), and Isaac (b. 1980).[4]


  1. ^ Sharpless, Karl Barry (1968). Studies of the mechanism of action of 2,3-oxidosqualene-lanosterol cyclase: featuring enzymic cyclization of modified squalene oxides (Ph.D.). Stanford University. OCLC 66229398 – via ProQuest. (Subscription required (help)).
  2. ^ a b Henderson, Andrea Kovacs (2009). American Men & Women of Science. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. Cengage Learning. p. 764. ISBN 9781414433066.
  3. ^ A cautionary tale from the past | MIT News Office. Web.mit.edu (1992-03-11). Retrieved on 2014-06-16.
  4. ^ a b "K. Barry Sharpless". Notable Names Database. Soylent Communications. 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  5. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2001". Nobelprize.org. The Nobel Foundation. 2001. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  6. ^ Modular click chemistry | ScienceWatch | Thomson Reuters. ScienceWatch. Retrieved on 2014-06-16.

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