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Irwin B. Wilson

by Susan J. Ainsworth
April 14, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 15

Irwin B. Wilson, 92, a professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, died on Dec. 22, 2013.

Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Wilson earned a B.S. in chemistry cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from City College of New York in 1941 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Columbia University in 1949 with Victor K. LaMer.

Wilson then accepted a position as an assistant professor in the neurology department at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, where he conducted research on the mechanism of action of acetylcholinesterase. On the basis of these studies, he developed and synthesized the first rationally designed drug: pralidoxime (2-pyridine aldoxime methyl chloride), which is known as 2-PAM and is an antidote to nerve gas and insecticide poisoning.

Wilson moved to Boulder in 1966 to take a position as professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado. He served as chairman of his department from 1972 until 1974 and retired in 1989 after publishing 184 papers in scientific journals.

He received the first annual award of the Association for Research in Nervous & Mental Disease in 1958 and the University of Colorado Award for Research & Creative Work in 1976. Wilson was a member of ACS from 1947 until 1986.

He is survived by his daughter, Susan, and son, Michael. His wife, Norma, whom he married in 1952, predeceased him.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.


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