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Gilbert J. Stork

Gilbert Stork

Detail of Image, Courtesy of John D. Roberts, CHF Collections

  • Born: December 31, 1921, Brussels, Belgium

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0100
Interview Date: August 6, 1991
Location: Columbia University, New York, New York
Interviewers: James J. Bohning and Leonard W. Fine
No. of pages: 108

  Abstract of Interview

Gilbert Stork begins his interview with a description of his childhood and family background in Paris. Stork and his family moved to the United States in 1939, and he decided to begin his graduate studies in chemistry at the University of Florida in 1940. There, Stork earned his B.S. in 1942, and in 1945, he received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. While earning his Ph.D. at Wisconsin, he taught a section of the Army Special Training Program. Synthesis related to quinine and stereochemical control in synthesis highlighted Stork's graduate work and early career. His first employment after receiving his Ph.D. was with Lakeside Laboratories, working on estrone synthesis. There, Stork also began work on hydrogenation techniques. Stork left Lakeside in 1946 and began an instructorship at Harvard University. While at Harvard, he also consulted for the Syntex Corporation. In 1953, Stork left Harvard and joined the faculty of Columbia University as an associate professor, where he continued his organic synthesis research. Next, Stork worked on polyene cyclization and enamine alkylation while continuing his synthesis work. Stork concludes the interview with a discussion of various developments in organic chemistry, the future of university research funding, and memorable students and co-workers.


1942 B.S., Chemistry, University of Florida
1945 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Wisconsin

  Professional Experience

Lakeside Laboratories, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

1945 - 1946 Senior Research Chemist

Harvard University

1946 - 1948 Instructor

Harvard University

1948 - 1953 Assistant Professor

Columbia University

1953 - 1955 Associate Professor

Columbia University

1955 - 1967 Professor

Columbia University

1967 Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry


1957 Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1959 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow
1961 D.Sc. (honorary), Lawrence University
1961 Baekeland Medal, North Jersey Section, American Chemical Society
1962 Harrison Howe Award
1966 Edward Curtis Franklin Memorial Award, Stanford University
1967 Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1971 Gold Medal, Synthetic Organic Chemical Manuufacturers Association
1973 Nebraska Award
1978 Roussel Prize, Paris
1979 D.Sc. (honorary), Université Pierre et Marie Curie
1980 Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society
1982 Edgar Fahs Smith Award, Philadelphia Section, American Chemical Society
1982 Willard Gibbs Medal, Chicago Section, American Chemical Society
1982 Award in Chemical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences
1982 D.Sc. (honorary), University of Rochester
1983 National Medal of Science
1983 Pauling Award
1985 Tetrahedron Prize
1986 Remsen Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
1986 Cliff S. Hamilton Award, Nebraska
1987 Monie A. Ferst Award and Medal, Georgia Tech
1988 D.Sc. (honorary), Emory University
1991 Roger Adams Award
1992 George Kenner Award, Liverpool
1992 Robert Robinson Lectureship Award, UK
1992 D.Sc. (honorary), Columbia University
1993 Robert A. Welch Award
1996 Wolf Prize, Israel
1997 D.Sc. (honorary), University of Wisconsin

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Years 1

Family relocation from Belgium to France. Upbringing and early education in Paris. High school education in Nice. Family relocation to the United States. Interest in poetry and French literature.

College and Graduate school 11

Decision to attend University of Florida. Advanced standing at University of Florida. Taking chemistry and organic chemistry courses. Graduate school at University of Wisconsin. Early proposed synthesis for quinine.

Structure and Synthesis 18

Approaching three-dimensionality of structures. Santonin synthesis. Chemical model construction. Work of Sir Robert Robinson. Robert B. Woodward and strychnine structure. Quinine synthesis. Remembering colleagues Louis Feiser, Carl Djerassi, Albert Eschenmoser, Tadeus Reichstein.

Early Career 32

Working for Lakeside Laboratories. Estrone synthesis. Application for postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Influence of Robert B. Woodward. Leaving Lakeside for instructorship at Harvard. IR spectrometry work. Leaving Harvard for Columbia University.

Later Career 49

Consulting for Syntex Corporation. Working on taxol. Structure methods. Polyene cyclization with Albert Eschenmoser. Morphine review. Contributions to stereochemistry.

Scientific Research 74

Radical cyclization. Selecting targets for synthesis. Work at Columbia University. University environment.

Final Thoughts 85

Current work in synthesis and structuring. University funding. Acknowledgement of graduate students.

Notes 94

Index 100

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

Leonard W. Fine

Leonard Fine is professor of chemistry and director of undergraduate studies in chemistry at Columbia University. His special interests include polymer chemistry and materials science, industrial inorganic and organic chemistry, engineering plastics, problems in solid waste management and the recovery and recycling of post-consumer plastics. Among his recent publications are two practical manuals on principles and practices of infrared spectroscopy and a general chemistry textbook for engineers and scientists. He holds a B.S. in chemistry from Marietta College and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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