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Gilbert Stork

Columbia University professor remembered for his chemistry as well as his charm

by Linda Wang
October 25, 2017

Gilbert Stork, a renowned synthetic organic chemist, died on Oct. 21. He was 95.

“Gilbert Stork was a treasure, a force of nature, and one of the towering chemists of our time,” says Paul Wender, a chemistry professor at Stanford University, who trained as a postdoc under Stork. “He was at once brilliant and intensely creative but also humble and one of the most caring individuals one could ever hope to meet.”

Stork, who was Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at Columbia University, was known for his pioneering work on enamine chemistry, leading to development of the Stork enamine alkylation. “His synthetic achievements were driven by his uncanny ability to think mechanistically about reaction science,” Wender says. “He saw, in the most simple and complex transformations, points of mechanism that most would miss. They became the basis for his amazing solutions to difficult problems.”

Stork—who earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison—was also known for his total synthesis of natural products. In 2001, Stork published the first stereoselective total synthesis of the antimalarial quinine.

Many in the chemistry community also fondly remember Stork’s sense of humor and his charm. “Stork could be unintentionally very funny, yet that didn’t detract from the seriousness of his professionalism,” says chemistry historian Jeffrey I. Seeman of the University of Richmond, who has published several papers on Stork’s life and career. “This was a man who deeply loved organic chemistry, and he was a good guy.”

Stork continued to publish papers up until his death. Chemistry blogger Derek Lowe noted on social media a footnote from a paper Stork published in September in Organic Letters that read, in part, “At this point, we realized that we did not have enough material (a few milligrams) to go through the several steps for this conversion. One would have to restart the whole synthesis. But I (G.S.) am now 95 years old.”



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