Gilbert Stork

Born: December 31, 1921 | Brussels, BE
Died: Saturday, October 21, 2017
Photograph of Gilbert Stork

Gilbert Stork, Courtesy of John D. Roberts, CHF Collections.

Gilbert Stork begins his interview with a description of his childhood and family background in Paris. Stork and his family moved to the United States in 1939. Stork earned his BS at the University of Florida in 1942, and in 1945 he received his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. Stork’s graduate work and early career focused on synthesis related to quinine and stereochemical control in synthesis. His first employment after receiving his PhD was with Lakeside Laboratories, working on estrone synthesis. Stork left Lakeside in 1946 and began an instructorship at Harvard University.  While at Harvard, he also consulted for the Syntex Corporation. In 1953, Stork left Harvard and joined the faculty of Columbia University, where he continued his organic synthesis research. Stork concludes the interview with a discussion of various developments in organic chemistry, the future of university research funding, and memorable students and co-workers.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0100
No. of pages: 108
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning and Leonard W. Fine
6 August 1991
Columbia University, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

Gilbert Stork begins his interview with a description of his childhood and family background in Paris. Stork and his family moved to the United States in 1939, and he decided to begin his graduate studies in chemistry at the University of Florida in 1940. There, Stork earned his BS in 1942, and in 1945, he received his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. While earning his PhD at Wisconsin, he taught a section of the Army Special Training Program. Synthesis related to quinine and stereochemical control in synthesis highlighted Stork's graduate work and early career. His first employment after receiving his PhD was with Lakeside Laboratories, working on estrone synthesis. There, Stork also began work on hydrogenation techniques. Stork left Lakeside in 1946 and began an instructorship at Harvard University. While at Harvard, he also consulted for the Syntex Corporation. In 1953, Stork left Harvard and joined the faculty of Columbia University as an associate professor, where he continued his organic synthesis research. Next, Stork worked on polyene cyclization and enamine alkylation while continuing his synthesis work. Stork concludes the interview with a discussion of various developments in organic chemistry, the future of university research funding, and memorable students and co-workers. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 University of Florida BS Chemistry
1945 University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Lakeside Laboratories

1945 to 1946
Senior Research Chemist

Harvard University

1946 to 1948
Instructor
1948 to 1953
Assistant Professor

Columbia University

1953 to 1955
Associate Professor
1955 to 1967
Professor
1967 to 1997
Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1957

Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1959

Guggenheim Foundation Fellow

1961

DSc (honorary), Lawrence University

1961

Baekeland Medal, North Jersey Section, American Chemical Society

1962

Harrison Howe Award

1966

Edward Curtis Franklin Memorial Award, Stanford University

1967

Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society

1971

Gold Medal, Synthetic Organic Chemical Manuufacturers Association

1973

Nebraska Award

1978

Roussel Prize, Paris

1979

DSc (honorary), Université Pierre et Marie Curie

1980

Nichols Medal, New York Section, American Chemical Society

1982

Edgar Fahs Smith Award, Philadelphia Section, American Chemical Society

1982

Willard Gibbs Medal, Chicago Section, American Chemical Society

1982

Award in Chemical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences

1982

DSc (honorary), University of Rochester

1983

National Medal of Science

1983

Pauling Award

1985

Tetrahedron Prize

1986

Remsen Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society

1986

Cliff S. Hamilton Award, Nebraska

1987

Monie A. Ferst Award and Medal, Georgia Tech

1988

DSc (honorary), Emory University

1991

Roger Adams Award

1992

George Kenner Award, Liverpool

1992

Robert Robinson Lectureship Award, UK

1992

DSc (honorary), Columbia University

1993

Robert A. Welch Award

1996

Wolf Prize, Israel

1997

DSc (honorary), University of Wisconsin

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Years
1

Family relocation from Belgium to France. Upbringing and early education in Paris. High school education in Nice. Family relocation to the United States. Interest in poetry and French literature.

College and Graduate school
11

Decision to attend University of Florida. Advanced standing at University of Florida. Taking chemistry and organic chemistry courses. Graduate school at University of Wisconsin. Early proposed synthesis for quinine.

Structure and Synthesis
18

Approaching three-dimensionality of structures. Santonin synthesis. Chemical model construction. Work of Sir Robert Robinson. Robert B. Woodward and strychnine structure. Quinine synthesis. Remembering colleagues Louis Feiser, Carl Djerassi, Albert Eschenmoser, Tadeus Reichstein.

Early Career
32

Working for Lakeside Laboratories. Estrone synthesis. Application for postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Influence of Robert B. Woodward. Leaving Lakeside for instructorship at Harvard. IR spectrometry work. Leaving Harvard for Columbia University.

Later Career
49

Consulting for Syntex Corporation. Working on taxol. Structure methods. Polyene cyclization with Albert Eschenmoser. Morphine review. Contributions to stereochemistry.

Scientific Research
74

Radical cyclization. Selecting targets for synthesis. Work at Columbia University. University environment.

Final Thoughts
85

Current work in synthesis and structuring. University funding. Acknowledgement of graduate students.

Notes
94
Index
100

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.