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Obituary: William H. Pirkle

by Linda Wang
July 6, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 28


Photo of William Pirkle.
Credit: Courtesy of Rachel Pirkle
William Pirkle

William H. Pirkle, 83, died on April 6 in Champaign, Ill.

“William H. Pirkle made a profound impact on modern chemistry by inventing and popularizing widely used methodologies for the analysis and purification of enantiomers, contributions that enabled the subsequent revolution into the discovery, development, and manufacture of enantiopure pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and specialty chemicals. Pirkle’s pioneering 1966 demonstration of the use of chiral solvating agents for the NMR determination of enantiopurity led to a lifelong interest in understanding the supramolecular interactions responsible for enantiodifferentiation. An important line of research into the chromatographic resolution of stereoisomers throughout the 1970s led in 1981 to the commercialization of the very first chiral stationary phase for the HPLC separation of enantiomers. The availability of this and subsequent ‘Pirkle columns’ had a deep and lasting impact, becoming widely embraced by the chemical sciences research community worldwide and spearheading the wholesale changeover to chromatography as the preferred technique for measuring enantiopurity. Doc Pirkle was a highly creative, independent, and fun-loving collaborator whose circle of friends extends around the globe. His research group at the University of Illinois, often referred to as The Pirkle Zoo, became a refuge for an interesting assembly of characters who flourished under his mentorship.”—Christopher Welch, friend, colleague, and former student

Most recent title: emeritus professor of chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Education: B.S., chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, 1959; Ph.D., organic chemistry, University of Rochester, 1963

Survivors: wife, Lauren; daughters, Arlen, Jill, and Rachel; sons, Will, Indi, and Matthew

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