The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
This interview covers the life of Koji Nakanishi from his early education in Egypt to his current work as Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University and Director of the Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research in Japan. He discusses his education in wartime Japan, his fellowship years at Harvard University working with Louis Fieser, a succession of positions at various Japanese universities, and his eventual decision to go to Columbia University. Nakanishi's research on the structure of natural products and, more recently, their mode of action, and the development and use of infrared spectroscopy, NMR, and circular dichroism is discussed in some detail. The interview concludes with a brief discussion of his avocation, magic, and some general comments on the future of organic chemistry.
Tokyo Kyoiku University
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research
Award in Pure Chemistry, Chemical Society of Japan
Asahi Cultural Award
Ernest Guenther Award, American Chemical Society
Chemical Society of Japan Award
E. E. Smissman Medal, University of Kansas
Centenary Medal, British Chemical Society
H. C. Urey Award, Phi Lambda Upsilon, Columbia University
Remsen Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
First Research Award, American Society of Pharmacognosy
Alcon Award in Opthamology
Paul Karrer Gold Medal, University of Zürich
Honorary D. Sc. , Williams College
Table of Contents
World War II. Father's occupation. Siblings. British Boys School in Alexandria, Egypt. Return to Japan. Keeping up with English. Garioa Fellowship. High school in Osaka during the war. Decision to go into chemistry. Entry into Nagoya University. Work in explosives research.
The Japanese university system. Fujio Egami. Y. Hirata (research mentor). Feelings about the war. Conditions after the war. Natural product tradition in Japan. Three pioneers of Japanese chemistry. Marriage. Influence of wife. Daughter (Keiko) and son (Jun). Research problems—actinomycin, xanthopterin. Garioa Fellowship. Decision to go to Harvard. Preparation for America. The Garioa Fellows.
First exposure to infrared spectroscopy. Articles and book on infrared spectroscopy. Translation of book into English. First research problem with Fieser. Paper chromatography. Paul Bartlett's lectures. Introduction to electronic theory of organic chemistry. Fieser's stuffed bat. Students and faculty at Harvard.
Nagoya University. Assistant Professor to Hirata. The Fieser group at Harvard. The use of spectroscopy. Move to Kyoiku University (Tokyo University of Education). Conversion of Kyoiku University to Tsukuba University. First introduction to NMR. Consulting meeting with Carl Djerassi. Natural product research coupled with applications of spectroscopy. Interest in bioactive compounds.
Offer to go to Tohoku in 1963. Work on the ginkgolides. Support of research by the Takeda Company. The search for biologically active plant constituents. The ecdysones.
The decision to move. The decision to go to Columbia. Director of Research for International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Nairobi). Consulting for Syntex. Circular dichroism.
Structure of fluorescent Y base of t-RNA. Insect antifeedants. The neem tree. Isao Kubo. Chemistry of vision. Brevotoxin. Use of x-ray and other advanced spectroscopic methods in structure determination. Interdisciplinary approaches to structure determination and mode of action. Tunichrome, vanadium sequestering agent. Crustacean molting inhibitor. Meiosis-inducing substance in starfish. Changes in organic chemistry. Dynamic natural products. Cardiotonic hormones.
Origins. How Nakanishi became Director. Postdoc system. Critique of the Japanese university system. Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). Personnel structure of the Suntory Institute. Difficulty in accepting foreign postdocs. Comparison of American and Japanese postdoc system. Research structure at SUNBOR.
Chemistry of cell differentiation. Phytolexins.
About the Interviewer
Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.