Evans Wins Welch Award | May 14, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 20 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 20 | p. 10 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 14, 2012

Evans Wins Welch Award

Awards: Harvard chemist’s contributions to asymmetric synthesis recognized with 2012 prize
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: Welch Award, awards, Welch Foundation, David A. Evans
Credit: Tatiana Blanco/Welch Foundation
2012 Welch Award winner David Evans of Harvard University
Credit: Tatiana Blanco/Welch Foundation

For his pioneering work in synthetic organic chemistry, Harvard University chemist David A. Evans has won this year’s Welch Award in Chemistry. The $300,000 award is given annually by the Houston-based Welch Foundation to foster basic chemical research that benefits humankind.

“David Evans is one of the world’s best synthetic chemists,” says fellow organic chemist Marye Anne Fox, chair of the Welch Foundation’s scientific advisory board and chancellor of the University of California, San Diego. “His inventive mechanistic work brought clarity to new approaches to the catalytic induction of asymmetry in complex chiral molecules.”

Evans, 71, is best known for devising a family of chiral oxazolidinone auxiliaries that can be used to control a target structure’s stereochemistry. These readily available and flexible asymmetric reagents are widely used in both industrial and academic laboratories for natural product synthesis and drug discovery.

Evans has dozens of other useful synthetic methods to his credit, including a variety of enantioselective transformations as well as sigmatropic rearrangements and hydride reductions. He’s also made fundamental contributions to organosilicon and organosulfur chemistry.

The power and versatility of Evans’ construction methods are clear from the more than 50 natural products his lab has synthesized over the years. Many feature dizzyingly complex stereochemistry, such as the glycosylated antibiotic vancomycin and the anticancer agent bryostatin.

“But I believe my greatest achievements have come in education,” Evans says. More than 70 of his students have gone on to start their own independent academic labs. He says he was inspired to be an educator by physical chemist Norman C. Craig of Oberlin College, where Evans earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1963.

After earning a Ph.D. in chemistry from California Institute of Technology in 1967, Evans taught at UCLA and Caltech before moving to Harvard in 1983. His previous honors include the American Chemical Society’s Arthur C. Cope Award and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Evans says the award money will go a long way toward covering college expenses for his two grandsons, now ages 14 and 11.

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