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Elias James Corey

Elias James Corey (born July 12, 1928) is a renowned American organic chemist. In 1990 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his development of the theory and methodology of organic synthesis", specifically retrosynthetic analysis.[1][2] Regarded by many as one of the greatest living chemists, he has developed numerous synthetic reagents, methodologies, and has advanced the science of organic synthesis considerably. He was awarded the Japan Prize in 1989.

He was born "William" to Christian Lebanese immigrants in Methuen, Massachusetts, 30 miles north of Boston. His mother changed his name to "Elias" to honor his father who died eighteen months after the birth of his son. His widowed mother, brother, two sisters and an aunt and uncle all lived together in a spacious house- struggling through the depression. He attended Catholic elementary school and Lawrence public High School.[1]

At MIT, he earned both a bachelor's degree in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1951. Both degrees were in chemistry. Immediately, he joined the faculty of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1959, he moved to Harvard University, where he is currently an emeritus professor of organic chemistry. He was awarded the American Chemical Society's greatest honor, the Priestley Medal, in 2004.


Major contributions


He has developed several new synthetic reagents:


Several reactions developed in the E.J. Corey labs have become commonplace in modern synthetic organic chemistry. Several reactions have been named after him:

Total syntheses

E. J. Corey and his research group have completed many total syntheses. His 1969 total syntheses of several prostaglandins are considered classics.[5][6]

Other notable syntheses include:


Ryoji Noyori, the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate has commented that "without Corey, modern organic synthesis could not exist."

A press releasedescribing Corey's accomplishments following his receiving the 1990 Nobel Prize stated:

"To perform the total syntheses successfully, Corey was also obliged to develop some fifty entirely new or considerably improved synthesis reactions or reagents. It is probable that no other chemist has developed such a comprehensive and varied assortment of methods which, often showing the simplicity of genius, have become commonplace in the synthesising laboratory. His systematic use of different types of organometallic reagent has revolutionised recent techniques of synthesis in many respects."

Graduate student suicides

Between 1980 and 1998 there have been eight graduate-student suicides, half of them happened in the chemistry department, and three of those were suicides of students supervised by Prof. Corey.[16] [17]

The three suicidal students were:

  • Felix Chau (died 1987), third-year student supervised by Corey.
  • Fung Lam (died 1997), in his sixth month at Harvard. Changed supervisors to Corey ten days before his suicide.
  • Jason Altom (died 1998), Ph.D. student supervised by Corey.

Corey was about 70 years old at the time of the last two suicides. Altom's suicide caused controversy because he explicitly blamed the advisor (Corey) for his problems. Altom died by taking potassium cyanide in 1998, citing in his farewell note "abusive research supervisors" as one reason for taking his life. Altom's suicide note had been described as a "policy paper," because it contained explicit instructions on how to reform the relationship between students and their supervisors. [18]

Woodward-Hoffmann rules

Recently when awarded the Priestley Medal, E. J. Corey has controversially claimed to have inspired Robert Burns Woodward prior to the development of the Woodward-Hoffmann rules. This was rebutted by Roald Hoffmann in the journal Angewandte Chemie.[19]


  1. ^ E. J. Corey, X-M. Cheng, The Logic of Chemical Synthesis, Wiley, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-471-11594-0.
  2. ^ "The Logic of Chemical Synthesis: Multistep Synthesis of Complex Carbogenic Molecules (Nobel Lecture)" E.J. Corey, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1991, 30, 455.
  3. ^ Corey, E.J., and Suggs, W. 'Pyridinium Chlorochromate. An Efficient Reagent for Oxidation of Primary and Secondary Alcohols to Carbonyl Compounds', Tetrahedron Lett. 1975, 31, 2647-2650.
  4. ^ Corey, E. J.; Venkateswarlu, A. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1972, 94, 6190-6191. (doi:10.1021/ja00772a043)
  5. ^ E. J. Corey, N. M. Weinshenker, T. K. Schaaf, W. Huber, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1969, 91, 5675-5677. (doi:10.1021/ja01048a062)
  6. ^ K. C. Nicolaou, E. J. Sorensen, Classics in Total Synthesis, VCH, New York, 1996, ISBN 3-527-29231-4.
  7. ^ Corey, E. J.; Ohno, M.; Vatakencherry, P. A.; Mitra, R. B. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1961, 83, 1251-1253. (doi:10.1021/ja01466a056)
  8. ^ "Total Synthesis of Longifolene" Corey, E. J.; Ohno, M.; Mitra, R. B.; Vatakencherry, P. A. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1964, 86, 478-485. (doi:10.1021/ja01057a039)
  9. ^ Corey, E. J.; Ghosh, A. K. Tetrahedron Lett. 1988, 29, 3205-3206.
  10. ^ Corey, E. J.; Kang, M.; Desai, M. C.; Ghosh, A. K.; Houpis, I. N. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1988, 110, 649-651.
  11. ^ Corey, E. J. Chem. Soc. Rev. 1988, 17, 111-133.
  12. ^ "Total Synthesis of Lactacystin" Corey, E. J.; Reichard, G. A. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1992, 114, 10677.
  13. ^ "Enantioselective Total Synthesis of Miroestrol" Corey, E. J.; Wu, L. I. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1993, 115, 9327.
  14. ^ Corey, E. J.; Gin, D. Y.; Kania, R. S. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1996, 118, 9202-9203.
  15. ^ "A Short Enantioselective Pathway for the Synthesis of the Anti-Influenza Neuramidase Inhibitor Oseltamivir from 1,3-Butadiene and Acrylic Acid" Yeung, Y.-Y.; Hong, S.; Corey, E. J. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 6310-6311. (doi:10.1021/ja0616433)
  16. ^ Schneider, Alison. "Harvard Faces the Aftermath of a Graduate Student's Suicide", The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998. Retrieved on 2007-11-28. 
  17. ^ For comparison: The MIT had 12 suicides between 1990 and 2002. That's one per year, while Harvard's rate mentioned above was lower than one per two years.
    Sontag, Deborah. "Who Was Responsible For Elizabeth Shin?", The New York Times, 2002-04-28. Retrieved on 2007-11-28. 
  18. ^ Hall, Stephen S.. "Lethal Chemistry at Harvard", The New York Times, 1998-11-29. 
  19. ^ R. Hoffmann Angew. Chem. 2004, 43, 6586-6590.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Elias_James_Corey". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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