Everyone who has had a notable interaction with Professor Corey and who wishes to share it with Corey group members and the public, are invited to submit notes. Notes will be displayed here, on the publicly accessible pages of this website. Submissions will undergo scrutiny prior to their display. Submit notes by emailing them to coreylab@ejcorey.org.

Date of Submission Name of the Submitter Title Text of the Note
6/11/2008David R. LiuFormative MomentsProfessor Corey (I still have a hard time calling him E. J. when I think of my undergraduate days) has so profoundly shaped my life that it's hard to fit an appropriate remembrance into 3,000 characters. Instead, I'll just highlight a few memories that continue to inspire, make me laugh, or simply realize how lucky I am to have been a part of the Corey family.

- I first met Professor Corey at the 1990 Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm. He was, of course, receiving the Prize. I was fortunate enough to be one of the many students in attendance as part of a high school science competition, and was a Harvard freshman at the time. During his Nobel lecture, he showed the synthesis of an insect juvenile hormone on a slide. I noticed that he managed to transform one olefin into an epoxide while leaving two others untouched. I decided he must be a magician, or a genius, or, most likely, both. I asked him about the transformation in the Q&A period following the lecture. He very patiently explained to me how molecules can adopt structures that make similar groups react very differently. It was the first taste of what I continue to enjoy 18 years later-- his patience, love for teaching, and enthusiasm for the molecular sciences.

- My first summer in the Corey group in 1991 was full of wonderful experiences-- including receiving a crash-course in bench chemistry from Scott Virgil. One of the precious compounds we made was 3 mg of the product that results from incubating 10,15-didesmethyl oxidosqualene with oxidosqualene cyclase enzyme from hog livers. Scott had a hint from NMR studies that the product did not adopt the canonical 6-6-6-5 steroid ring structure, but we really needed X-ray diffraction to elucidate the structure of the product. Scott was away for a few days and during that window, Professor Corey personally came to me each day to pose interesting mechanism problems (written in black ink on the white pages on his clipboard, of course), and to teach me some lessons in experimental technique. He showed me how to set up a small-scale crystallization using a stream of nitrogen to evaporate and cool the solvent in a tiny vial containing our precious product. Getting so much of Professor Corey's time while a freshman undergraduate was very special, and inspired me to welcome more than 30 undergraduates, and counting, into my own lab.

- As a sophomore in the Corey group, we went to a nearby beach for a group outing during the summer. In a spontaneous utterance, I asked Professor Corey a casual question starting with "Hey E.J.!". Time seemed to stop as I realized that no students really called Professor Corey by his first initials, and simultaneously noticed dozens of eyes staring at me like I had just gargled with the holy water. Of course, Professor Corey in his typical understated manner answered as if nothing odd had happened. Three or four group members the next day in lab gave me a hint that it wasn't appropriate to address the boss with "Hey E.J.!". I'm happy to report that at least I've learned to drop the "Hey" part.

- I've twice asked Professor Corey for advice at key points in my early scientific career. The first was as a college senior struggling to choose between graduate programs in chemistry, and wondering if I should pursue a Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry or begin to explore the biological world-- something that I also first tasted as a member of the Corey group. The second was as a (barely) third-year graduate student that was just offered a generous position at an investment bank, which would require leaving science at least for a year. Both times, I was surprised by his response-- which was to tell me that these were decisions that I alone could make. At the time I was puzzled, but now I appreciate the great wisdom of his reaction. I've learned from this experience that in some cases, it is important to let my students find their own way.

I could go on forever... but I see that I'm 300 characters over the limit already. Suffice it to say that being a part of Professor Corey's family was the best, and the most formative, part of my college education.

6/19/2008Heiner Jendralla Birthday GreetingDear Professor Corey,

My best wishes for your 80th birthday !

With greatest respect and admiration I want to dedicate the attached paper to you. It has been presented at the 17th Intern. Conference Organic Process Research and Development (Dublin, March 11 – 14, 2008). It features a key reaction, unknown in scientific literature, which we applied on a ton scale.

To open the dedicated document, please copy the link below into your browser:
http://ejcorey.com/images/Dedicated_Articles/BD_Greetings_Jendralla.doc
6/21/2008Gary Keck“Vane’s Prostaglandin X”I was a postdoc with EJ from 1975-1977, and worked primarily on the synthesis of gibberellic acid, along with labmates Rick Danheiser, Jean Louie Gras, and S. Chandrasekaran (“Chandra”). There are so many memorable things I could write about, but this particular story stands out as one which should be recorded.

One day late in 76 I noticed EJ pacing in the hallway. There was nothing particularly odd about this, as he was in our hallway a lot in those days, checking in on our progress on GA3 as many as four times a day or so. What was unusual was that he seemed somewhat agitated, and he didn’t really go into any of the labs, just paced and peered in the doors, up and down the hall, and he also had a large vial of something in his hand.

Finally he came into our lab; it was clear that he was no longer pacing but was walking with dispatch and purpose, and he was headed straight for me. I prepared myself mentally for the two minute run-through of what I had done since we last talked and what I was doing now.

I never got the chance. Instead of “How’s it going?” or “How did that reaction work out?” I was blindsided by “Want to do something exciting??” Had I taken even a second to think, I would have known that the proper response would have been “But Professor Corey, I am already doing something exciting!”, but as I say, I was caught off guard, and simply blurted out “Sure, what is it?”

EJ then went on to describe the excitement around a newly discovered and incredibly potent prostanoid compound. No one knew what it was, and establishing the structure was complicated by its instability. The compound only lasted 30 seconds or so in aqueous medium. EJ thought he knew what it was, but the only way to establish the structure was through synthesis.

Briefly, my heart sank. I had spent my graduate career working on azo compounds and dioxetanes and I didn’t want to live in the coldroom again.

It was impossible not to get excited about this project though. So, EJ entrusted me with his precious bottle of PGF2, from which we would fashion the putative “prostaglandin X” . He put both me and Istvan Szekely on this project. Working literally night and day for about a month, we were able to prepare the compound as well as several analogues and have them tested for biological activity. When we finally got the last characterization data, EJ had the manuscript ready to go, and it was submitted just before he left for Christmas vacation.

I don’t think we could have given EJ a better Christmas present than that JACS Communication on what we now know as prostacyclin.


Gary E. Keck
6/23/2008Huber, Willy80th anniversary congratulations from Switzerland80th anniversary Professor E.J. Corey July 12, 2008
Hello E.J.
Who would not remember those exiting prostaglandin days 1968-70! Converse basement, hot and humid, not yet air-conditioned, crammed with people, Japanese, Indian, Swiss, and brilliant chemists from all over the US. Many of us in your group were engaged in the synthesis of
optically active prostaglandins E2 and F2α, two hormones of high scientific and industrial interest but hard to
isolate from natural sources and if, in scarce amounts. We synthesized it. On a gram scale and optically active!
I still remember you rushing into our lab and telling me to go and look for all optically active amines available. And try to crystallize a salt of the acid precursor enantiomer mixture we had in our hands. Out of possibly 8–10 amines available l-ephedrine did the job, and as it turned out, it picked the correct acid enantiomer which finally was converted to the correct optically active
prostaglandins found in nature.
Twenty years later when we celebrated your 60th birthday in Boston you were just as intense, warm-hearted and enthusiastic in the middle of your students and scholar collegues as before. I am quite sure, the sacred fire for understanding chemistry still burns strong as ever. If it weakens at times, think of all the magnificent scientific offspring you have created in the past 50 years. They now carry on.
I personally wish you many more healthy, happy, interesting and rewarding years.
Best wishes from Switzerland.
Willy Huber (E.J.C.1969-1970)
huber@thenose.com
6/27/2008Jones, GrahamBe first or bestDear EJ:
It has been 19 years since I had the privilege of joining the group and barely a day goes by without some thought relating to my time in 317 Conant. It was clear to all that the group was driven by an extraordinary and par-less leader, though I doubt anyone could fully contemplate the enormous impact that the experience of working for you would have on a career. You demanded excellence and found a way to get the best out of everyone. Harvard was and always will be a special place for chemistry. There are countless leaders who have graced the halls, and its current generation will continue the legacy. However, it was obvious to all that you were in a different class. Feared by competitors, cherished by coworkers, and admired by all, the initials EJ have a special place reserved in history. Thinking back it is hard to identify a single event that defines the time I spent with you, other than perhaps the elation on Nobel day. The group was all about teamwork, and the intense daily (or more frequent!) discussions you had with co-workers and the impact they had on the group spirit was remarkable and memorable. I remember vividly our initial conversation on my first day in the USA, being let loose to take over the bench of the (then graduating) Frank Hannon, working alongside Po-Wai Yeun, then later training Sep Sarshar. The group meetings were always insightful and focused intensely on a key issue - diphenylprolinol catalyzed enantioselective alkylations using dialkyl zincs comes to mind. Group lunches for departing co-workers were a welcome break, and gave one an idea on the immense size of the group’s operation (40+ orders of L6-Egg Drop-Fried Rice from Chef Chows House!). I had the good fortune to have the first bench outside your office and recall us engaging in spirited daily discussions ranging from the mechanism of the Katsuki-Sharpless reaction, to CBS catalyzed alkynylations, and ozonolysis of chiral allenes. You instilled in us a desire for high standards and a first rate work ethic, and I am ever grateful to you for foundation you provided us with. The EJ approach to synthesis remains – be first or be best. Sir – you were the first to show the chemical world how to do so many critical things, and when the history books are written there is no doubt you will be regarded as the best that there ever was.
Graham B. Jones
NATO Postdoctoral Fellow 1989-1991

6/27/2008PfizerCelebrating your 80th birthdayJuly 12, 2008

Professor Corey:

For over 50 years, you have served as an adviser, mentor, consultant and friend to Pfizer and the many scientists who have worked for this company. Your dedication, loyalty and scientific leadership have had a profound impact on our research, and we deeply appreciate your contributions to the growth of the company and its scientists.

When you began consulting for Pfizer, we were a company in transition – from a chemical supplier to a pharmaceutical research and development company. Our initial successes in antibiotic discovery would expand to the introduction of important medicines in arthritis, diabetes, depression and hypertension. Your contributions over the decades have helped the company grow from $100 million in sales in the 1950’s to almost $50 billion in sales today. More important than the financial success, your contributions helped focus our scientific efforts on delivering important medicines to treat debilitating disease and enhance the duration and quality of life for many.

Your relationship with Pfizer is unique not only for your length of service, but also for your passionate concern for the advancement of our company, the science it pursues and the people who work here. The breadth of your impact extends far beyond science itself, and we appreciate your advocacy of our scientists for prestigious external awards, your support of our Summer Undergraduate Research Program, which you were instrumental in establishing, and your assistance in helping us build strong ties with academia. Pfizer has long had an important and benevolent relationship with Harvard University, and we are grateful for your help in building a fruitful recruiting effort and productive scientific collaborations.

As former students and postdoctoral fellows, we are all grateful for the training and education that you provided us as our mentor – both while we were in your group and today as our scientific consultant. You taught us courage in attempting the most difficult scientific challenges, the fruits of relentlessly pursuing scientific excellence and the rewards of making breakthrough scientific contributions that advance the fields of chemistry and medicine. Those lessons are forever valuable and will continue to contribute to our achievement as scientific leaders and the success of the company. We are also grateful for your advice to come work for Pfizer, a company where we all feel we can make a profound difference with positive contributions to medicine and society.

Professor Corey, for your tireless dedication to Pfizer, your loyalty to our organization and the impact you have had on research, talent recognition, training and building alliances in academia, we thank you, wish you well on your 80th birthday and look forward to many more years of working together!

All the best,

Former Corey Group Members at Pfizer
(You can read this letter in a picture format at: http://ejcorey.com/images/Photos/PfizerLetter.jpg)
6/29/2008Shibata, SaizoIsolation of Oxazaborolidine CatalystI joined professor Corey’s group on April 1986, and I started study for enantioselective reduction of ketones by amino alcohol and borane from October 1986.

One day, professor Corey suggested me to isolate active catalyst. Usually isolated substances are stable and inactive, and therefore the suggestion seemed to me very difficult.

First, I tried to isolate active catalyst by purification using column chromatography, but isolated white solids were not active catalyst.

Then professor Corey explained me how to isolate active catalyst using sublimation precisely. I tried isolation of catalyst according to the sublimation method, and finally I got white crystals, which were active catalyst.

This isolation of oxazaborolidine catalyst was the great first step to explore the reagent structure, scope, and mode of reduction.
6/29/2008John KatzenellenbogenRemembrance of My First Meeting with E.J.It is difficult to choose among the many remembrances I have of my time and interactions with E. J., but I thought I would relate the very pleasant occasion of my first meeting with him.

It was the fall of 1962, during freshman orientation week, and I had arrived on the Harvard campus, eager, but very green and still rather uncertain. By mail, I found that I had qualified to be considered for entry into Chemistry 11 and 12, an accelerated chemistry program that covered all of undergraduate chemistry in a compact, two-year sequence, but my acceptance into this program required that I show up for an interview to an office in the basement of Converse Laboratories.

I arrived at my appointed time and was ushered into an unassuming office, with checkered floor tiles, where I was greeted by a friendly young man, E. J., dressed neatly in a white shirt and sporting a bow tie. He asked me some questions about my interest and experience in chemistry, and I bantered back. Being very eager to make a good impression, I worked hard to steer the discussion to a research experience I had had in the summer of 1960, when at the age of 16 I had worked in the laboratory of a distinguished photosynthesis researcher, Bessel Kok, at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies outside of Baltimore. Getting to this point, I pushed further, explaining that some of my research that summer had been published in Biophysica et Biochemica Acta, and that I had been acknowledged for my contributions. Then he asked the question I was hoping for.

“What was the title of the paper?” I had prepared for this diligently, and I responded, but only after taking a very deep breath,

“Partial-purification-and-determination-of-the-oxidation-reduction-potential-of-a- photosynthetic-chlorophyll-containing-pigment-absorbing-at-700-millimicrons!”

E. J. smiled, and I was accepted into the accelerated chemistry course, but I was never certain whether my rendition of that impossibly long title had been the turning point.

Needless to say, I was able to stay close to E. J. for many years. He was my instructor in Chemistry 12; he was also my mentor for undergraduate research, and then my doctoral advisor. Since my Ph.D., I have welcomed visits with him, for a while connected with visits my wife and I made to Cambridge to see our daughters when they were Harvard undergraduates and thereafter were working in Cambridge. E. J. has also been a faithful visitor to his old stomping grounds at the University of Illinois, several times as a lecturer, as an Honorary Doctorate Recipient, and as a Speaker at Chemistry Commencement, and most recently as a participant at a memorial service for Nelson Leonard, who was a mentor to E. J. when he was a junior faculty member at Illinois in the 1950’s.

I am also most appreciative to E. J. for his support and encouragement of me and my interests in bring novel chemical approaches to substantive biological problems. It was wonderful to see E. J. and Claire this past April (2008) at the Esselen Award Activities of the Northeastern Section of the ACS in Cambridge. They both looked so vital and so well, and they are an inspiration to those who aspire to have long and meaningful careers that balance work, family, and health.

E. J., congratulations on your 80th Birthday, and best wishes to you and your family for many more years of good health and for deep satisfaction from whatever activities you may wish to pursue.
7/2/2008Linus S LinMolecular models, plastic yet more valuable than pI know many have seen the molecular models that Prof. Corey uses on a daily basis, but the first time when I saw Prof. Corey hold one in his hand is still fresh in mind as if it had happened yesterday. Just finishing of graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, I arrived at Prof Corey's lab in January, 2005 as a NIH postdoctoral fellow. On my first day there, Prof. Corey told me to come to his office and he would talk to me about my project. Not sure what to expect, I knocked on the door. I remember Prof. Corey greeted me at the door, dispelling the often misunderstood myth of green and red lights. Once inside, I could not help looking around his office, which was bigger than my apartment and was full of books and references. But the things that really caught my eyes were those models of various molecules that the Corey lab had synthesized over the years, all made of high quality plastic. While still in awe of the scenery, Prof. Corey asked me to sit down, and he brought out a model of another molecule, which was made of the same quality plastic but with scaled down dimensions. Prof. Corey started, "this is a model of the bis-cinchona alkaloid catalyst for asymmetric dihydroxylation. The binding domain comprises a pyridazine floor and two walls formed by the quinolines of the alkaloids." He shifted the model to his left hand, and picked up another model with his right hand before continuing with his demonstration. "This is farnesyl acetate, which has two double bonds. This is how it sits in the binding pocket." He slid the model of farnesyl acetate in and out between the two walls of the binding pocket, and continued, "it is no surprise that there is no position selectivity between the terminal double bond and the internal double bond, but if we make the methoxy methyl of the alkaloids branched alkyl like isopropyl, the two isopropyl groups together will form a stopper, and prevent farnesyl acetate from sliding any deeper into the pocket. It should give you 20:1 selectivity!" For a brief moment, a small voice in my head asked whether it could be this easy to solve such a classical problem, but Prof. Corey's analysis could not be more convincing. I replied, "it makes a lot sense. I cannot wait to do the experiment."

Back in the labs, with the help of Mark Noe, a group member who had been on the AD project for a few years, I quickly set up the experiment to make the iPr-analogue of the catalyst, and ran the AD of farnesyl acetate. NMR analysis indicated a 7:1 selectivity. I was so exited and shared the news with Prof. Corey. "Prof. Corey, it works! Your idea worked!" Within a couple of months, by expanding iPr to 4-heptyl and some additional tweaking, we quickly achieved >200:1 selectivity in the AD of farnesyl acetate, all because of the incredible insights that Prof. Corey had in the mechanism of the AD reaction.

The selective AD of farnesyl acetate proves to be a powerful method. Coupled with a modified Brook rearrangement methodology leading to substituted enolsilanes, the group was able to synthesize several natural products in the following years: dammarendiol, scalarenedial, and hexacyclic polyprenoid, to name a few.

Over the years, I have fallen in love myself with the plastic models that Prof. Corey first introduced to me. I have purchased tens of boxes to distribute to my colleagues and group members. It all started from that conversation I had with Prof. Corey in January, 2005.
7/6/2008Mukund MehrotraLate E. T. Kaiser Told me This Good One.....and SoDear Professor Corey,

My best wishes to you on your 80th birthday and I wish you many happy returns of the day. Sometimes, I shut my eyes and envision that it is your 100th birthday, many scientific and non-scientific publications have come out with special issues celebrating it, and underlining your unprecedented impact on synthetic chemistry, and its broad impact on the quality of human life, including longevity, nicknaming you as “Henry Ford/Thomas Edison/Graham Bell or Wright Brothers of synthetic chemistry.”

Long live, Professor Corey!
________________________________

The following anecdotal story about E. J.’s passion for chemistry and his high work ethics was told to me by late Emil Thomas Kaiser (Corey group, 1960-61), while ETK was professor at the University of Chicago:

Until early 1960’s, E. J. often used to work in lab, closely with his students. One day, late night at 11:00 PM, E. J. and one of his students set up a reaction together and they decided that they would work it up at 6:00 AM, the following day. Early next morning, as planned, E. J. was walking to lab at about 6:00 when he saw his student also walking toward the lab. Seeing this, looking a bit angry, E. J. turned to his student, and said, “John, if you were really concerned about the reaction, you would have been here before 6:00 A.M.”

Quite in line with this, during my golden years in the Corey group, I often heard from him: ”You have not started that yet”; “You have not done that yet”; “how did you do it”; “you might have a golden reagent at your hands” ; “finish that, I have got another project for you to work on”. But, the real soul-touching, spirit-raising, and inspirational moments were when Professor Corey used to discuss with me the intricate mechanistic details of reactions of which I had not the slightest clue, in a manner as if I understood Chemistry as well as he did. Once, when I was working on generating singlet oxygen at -78 *C, Professor Corey himself neatly sketched the diagram of the apparatus, writing down the precise dimensions in centimeters, and then walked with me to the glassblowing shop down in the basement to explain the specifications flawlessly. A few days later, when I went there to pick it up, the glassblower told me that since then E. J. had visited him once again and altered the design.
____________________________

Besides, what has been a source of real inspiration to me is the following sentence in the press release of your Nobel Prize:

“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.”

Now couple it with the fact that you stated in your Priestley address: “In addition, I was able to teach students in just three to four months how to design complicated syntheses on their own.”

Now, this all makes me wonder if you should be nicknamed as “Henry Ford/Thomas Edison/Graham Bell or Wright Brothers of synthetic chemistry”!

__________________


In 2007. I published a letter in Nature, where I quote from the press release of your Nobel Prize; find it below:

Organic synthesis remains
relevant in drug discovery

SIR — As you point out in your News story
‘Chemists synthesize a natural-born killer’
(Nature 448, 630–631; 2007), some
researchers question the merits of organic
synthesis, whereby chemists seek to recreate
a synthetic version of a natural product. In
its defence, I want to remind readers that
when Elias James Corey received a Nobel
prize in 1990 for the development of organic
synthesis, the press release stated: “To
perform the total syntheses successfully,
Corey was also obliged to develop some fifty
entirely new or considerably improved
synthesis reactions or reagents…which…
have become commonplace in the
synthesizing laboratory.”
Such newly discovered reactions and
reagents are routinely used in the discovery of
drug candidates. The cost of pharmaceuticals
is, to some extent, directly related to the ease
or complexity of their synthesis, and there
are still many drugs in the pipeline whose
development has been hindered by problems
encountered during their manufacture.
This underlines the point that the science
of organic synthesis is still a worthy cause
to be pursued.

Mukund M. Mehrotra
7/7/2008Xu, FengLife Long LessonIt was two weeks into my post doc program with Professor Corey when he shared a priceless piece of advice with me. That was thirteen years ago, but what he shared still resonates in my mind. It’s become part of what inspires me to pursue my current venture.
As eager as any new post doc joining Professor Corey’s lab, I was very anxious to quickly deliver some results. Unfortunately, there was no lab space at the time and I had to wait another two weeks for a lab bench. As I waited, Professor Corey asked me to think about selecting my project. Since I wanted to do asymmetric catalysis, my project proposal focused on using chiral metal catalyst to study [4+4] cyclization reactions. My proposal was turned down as quickly as I came up with it. During my discussion with Professor Corey, he said: “Feng, you really should think of something more mainstream. Project selection is crucial to the success and impact of a project. Make sure it is on the right path with great potential. After the project selection and planning is done, all you need to do is to execute your ideas and test it in the lab”. As it turns out this advice applied to more than just science experiments. I now, more than ever, appreciate the wisdom and insight Professor Corey shared with me. It’s about “SELECTING A PATH WITH THE GREATEST POTENTIAL”; plan and put in the effort to make it happen. I’ve recently selected a path with great potential, now all I needed to do is to execute….
Dear Professor Corey: Happy 80th birthday with my greatest respect and admiration! Your guidance, dedication, and wisdom continue to inspire me through my many obstacles. Thank you.
7/7/2008Baran, PhilRemembrance/Birthday GreetingDear Professor Corey,

Happy Birthday! It is hard to believe that only five years ago I was in your laboratory. It seems like yesterday since I think of my time in your lab almost every day. I have so many fond memories of our time together. I remember how patient and understanding you were with me. I remember how you were accessible everyday and so generous with your time. I remember walking out of your office reenergized and inspired every single time we met. I remember how supportive and kind you were during a period of personal difficulty. I remember the feelings of awe during countless times that your insightful chemistry suggestions "saved the day". I treasure all of these memories and they serve as a constant source of strength through difficult times.

One of my most valuable material possessions is a folder stuffed full of your handwritten ideas, thoughts, and ruminations. Sometimes you would simply walk into the lab and ask for thoughts on one of your ideas, such as a remarkable proposal for a synthesis of ladderane lipids (see picture in photo section). I am so grateful for those countless instances when you exposed me to your brilliant way of thinking and your seemingly infinite chemical wisdom. You are the consummate teacher, scholar, and gentleman – A role model we should all aspire to. Thank You, Professor Corey for making the time in your lab so educational, enjoyable, and even "magical". I wish you and your family great happiness and joy!

With Deep Respect and Gratitude,

Phil
7/7/2008Dawson, DanThe path from EJ to your watchI was a postdoc in EJ’s group from Fall 1971 to December, 1972. Although I have many memories of that brief stay, three are particularly notable.

1) I was quite naďve when I first arrived, fully imbued with dreams of academic research and the importance of total synthesis of natural products. My principal project for my Caltech Ph.D. was the total synthesis of Germanicol, a pentacyclic triterpene, which took something like 42 steps. I was well aware that Germanicol had no practical use and that the synthesis was an exercise of sorts, but it served its purpose of exploring several synthetic strategies which would no doubt be put to use on a more valuable target by someone else in the future. My main project with EJ was Gibberellic acid, a plant growth agent and therefore a valuable target. It came as an eye-opening shock to me, early in the project, when Bob Carney pulled a 100-gram bottle of commercial Gibberellic acid out of his drawer just to let me know that the future of plant growth was not actually in my hands. That one event turned me from academic to industrial research.

2) EJ was pretty fearless about his reagents. In an attempt to close the lower ring of Gibberellic acid, he had me try to make an acylberyllium species using “nascent” (as it was called back then) beryllium prepared from BeCl2 and potassium in THF. My lab-mate felt this was a death wish on my part and stayed far away during those experiments. Didn’t work anyway…

3) A big fraction of the lab was occupied by an industrial-scale all-glass solvent stripper, donated to EJ by one of his industrial associates. No one had ever used it. But my synthesis of cis-1,2-cyclopentanediol required stripping 20 liters of water per run, so I used this white elephant – and it worked very nicely. This experience steered me towards scale-up and Process Development as a future career.

Knowing my interests were more on the industrial side, EJ introduced me to a company in Palo Alto, California, called Dynapol (he was one of their consultants) and I got my first job there. I’m happy to say that although I never impressed EJ that much when I worked for him, he was quite impressed with what I was able to accomplish at Dynapol: the first practical, industrial synthesis of Poly(vinylamine) and the development of an entire spectrum of polymeric dyes derived from that fundamental polymer; both were prepared on a ton scale. In the 26 years since Dynapol folded, dyes of that quality and utility have never been seen again.

BUT, the positive part about the Dynapol story is that the seed of Process Development and Scale-Up planted by EJ and nurtured by Dynapol became of great value to IBM. I joined the IBM Research Division straight from Dynapol and worked my way up to managing most of their synthetic chemistry groups. I wish that I could claim a major chemical invention that changed everyone’s lives – but I can’t. But I like to think that my background of Process Development and Scale-Up enabled the actual commercialization of Chemically Amplified Photoresists. These ultra-sensitive resists were developed by Grant Willson and his Lithography group, which wound up in my department. The emphasis that I was able to put into production of these materials was key to their success. Because these resists are used world-wide by all semiconductor manufacturers as the only way to attain sub-micron features, they have literally enabled a trillion-dollar industry.

I’d like to think there is a small thread running from EJ’s giant stripper to virtually every semiconductor device in use today, including your watch.
7/8/2008Sarakinos, GeorgiosA Lifetime ImpactWhat can someone write about a Scientist who, at the age of 80, still produces cutting-edge research results?
Nine years after completion of my Ph.D. under his guidance, Prof. Corey remains my mentor and his unparalleled genius, his creativity, his standards of excellence and ethics (to name a few of his inspiring qualities) guide me in my every step in my career. When you have had the privilege of learning Chemistry next to Prof. Corey, it leaves an impact on you for the rest of your life.
I moved to The Netherlands two years after I finished my Ph.D. and I immediately realized what it meant to have been a former Corey group member. My shoulders carried (and still do!) a heavy weight!
The first time I heard about Prof. Corey was in the beginning of my junior year at MIT, when Prof. Corey was awarded the Nobel Prize. Reading in the NY Times about his life and his scientific achievements, I thought to myself “This is the person I would like to do my Ph.D. with!”. Little did I know then that my naďve (at the time) wish would come true two years later, when Prof. Corey accepted me in his group.
Just like everyone who embarks on a Ph.D. “adventure” in a top and demanding research group like that of Prof. Corey’s, I faced many challenges, difficulties and frustrations during my tenure there, yet the happy moments of discovery and success outweigh everything else and Prof. Corey’s guidance, ingenious ideas and encouragement made it all come to a successful conclusion.
I still remember my “defense”, right before which I had lost ten years of my life in agony…waiting outside Prof. Corey’s office for him to call me inside. The defense turned out to be a … friendly scientific discussion which lasted a little more than one hour. Prof. Corey made every effort to support me and to put me at ease during that unique experience!
It is not an exaggeration to say that with the exception of my parents, to whom I owe so much, Prof. Corey has been the single most influential person in my life.

Dear Prof. Corey, I thank you from my heart for what you have offered me so generously. I wish you a Very Happy Birthday with many more years in good health, happiness and great discoveries.
7/9/2008Snyder, ScottCleaning out the RefrigeratorShortly before my time as a postdoctoral fellow in the Corey group was to come to a close in 2006, I had the opportunity to lead the group's efforts in cleaning out the coldroom after at least 20 years of chemical accumulation. The experience was remarkable for two reasons. First, it was a chance to handle samples that had been stored by generations of former Corey students, providing unique insights into how some of my own chemical heroes drew structures and a reminder of all the amazing projects that the group has undertaken and conquered in its more than half century of history. Second, it provided the only chance I ever had to see Prof. Corey in action, as he took to the bench to quench a few samples, particularly an old cylinder of boron tribromide which looked like it was from the early 1960s. It was clear from just those few minutes that "The Chief" as all of us effectionately still call him had not lost his touch, one that launched his career into the highest of trajectories, and that through words and ideas provided the training that has impacted so many of us.

On this, Professor Corey's 80th birthday, I want to close by wishing him the best of all possible days, and thanking him, from the bottom of my heart, for all that he has done for me. I left the Corey group a far better researcher, and a much deeper thinker than I entered, and will always try to live up to that legacy in my own training of my research group. Two years later, I deeply miss our chemical conversations, and will cherish every day I spent at Harvard for the rest of my life.


7/9/2008Parthasarathy, Saravanan (Van)You are my Role ModelDear. Prof. Corey,
My best wishes on your 80th Birthday. It’s a great honor and privilege to be part of the “E.J. Corey School of Chemistry Family” and I want to take this occasion to recall some memories of you that are particularly meaningful to me. When I was an under graduate at Presidency College (India) very often during my organic chemistry course, I learned about many exciting transformations from your lab. At that time, my ambition was to see you at least one time in my life. In 1995 when I started my graduate work, the first Photo hung in my lab cubicle area was yours. Most of the students thought I was just dreaming, until it came true in 2001, when I had the opportunity to join your group. It still seems in my memory like yesterday. On Sep 11th 2001, I decided to make the road trip from Montreal-Boston to see you before I officially joined your group but later at 9:00 AM my lab admin. (Prof. Steve Hanessian group) told me that it was a bad day to travel. Later on Sep 18th I was able to cross the Canadian-US border with little difficulty, you were very kind enough to see me. While I was finishing up the first year of my post doc in your lab with the total synthesis of Alpha Methylomuralide your daily interactions, persuasions, and constant mentoring was very impactful in my development as a scientist. Of the many lessons I learned from you, what struck me the most was your in depth analysis of problems and your dedication to perseverance. This influence helped me to nail the oxidation of sterically hindered Primary alcohol at the quaternary center of chiral Oxazoline (via non aqueous SWERN) and eventually subjected to further sequence to finish the Methyl Omuralide synthesis as one example. When I was in my second year, fall 2002, I recall that you just finished up a conversation with William Fenical about a new molecule they isolated some where in the Pacific Ocean and though he didn’t provide the exact structure, you said to me “I am thinking this is what the structure could be” with a big smile. With your constant guidance and support we (Reddy & I) were able to confirm your proposal with the First Total Synthesis (Salinosporamide A) which you sent to JACS the very next day. July 11th 2002 I was in a hurry to make you a Birthday Card, and although my roommate and Lab partner (Phil. Baran) said it looked good. Since I want to put that Card on Conant Lab Corridor Notice Board, for second opinion I asked another lab colleague in our group they said I would be in trouble so I didn’t display your card that day. But today, this time I want to put that long due Birthday card in this occasion (may be included in Photo Gallery, portrayed as a Boxing Legend Ali-First Round Knock out on the most expected match), except a little change I added the names of molecules you conquered (instead some of the professors names originally). You are my Hero Prof. Corey and you are only 80 years Young.
Saravanan Parthasarathy (Van)
7/10/2008Matsumoto, TakeshiMy remembrance of Converse Lab during Oct-Dec 1968In the spring of 1968 I published a paper entitled “Total Synthesis of Illudin M,” and received the Overseas Research Grant from the Ministry of Education of Japan to study outside Japan for one year. I spent first half of the year at University of Zurich, and then arrived at Cambridge MA on one Sunday in October 1968.

From the airport I went directly to the Chemistry Lab (Converse Lab). I had written to Professor Corey from Zurich about my flight schedule. Unexpectedly, a young Japanese Hisashi Yamamoto, who was working with him, was waiting for me at the Lab. Hisashi said, “Professor Corey said to me that Matsumoto would come here at such and such time. If you find him, show him around the Lab.” So my first impression of the Harvard University was that everyone in the Corey group could foresee the future.

At that time Professor Corey was 40 years old and I was aged 46. I studied with him for three months. It was a short period but I learned quite a lot. He suggested doing experimental laboratory works or computer-aided analysis of synthetic steps. I chose to do the former, and learned how to overcome troubles that are encountered in experiments.

My job at the Corey’s lab was aimed at the exploration of new Wittig Reagents. I worked hard every day and night! However, the three-month period was too short to realize our expectations. What I learned the most in the Converse Lab was a new high-performance 60 MZ Varian NMR spectrometer. I found its performance can be highly effective to follow the reaction processes.

During the last period in Corey’s Lab, Professor Corey phoned Professor Roberts and recommended me with warm words. By this phone I learned about basic NMR and MO. In January 1969 I left the Corey group to join J.D. Roberts group at Caltech. I enjoyed life in California and learned about frontier physical organic chemistry. On the last day of March, I left the US for Japan.

What I felt on the airplane was that the US is rich in physical materials and also broad at heart.
7/11/2008Ronald J. McCaullyTransition to HarvardIn the summer of 1959 the move to Harvard was announced. Professor Corey, who had been listed in Esquire Magazine as one of the most brilliant, available bachelors and who made his mark as the youngest full-professor at the University of Illinois, was to further enhance the prestige of the preeminent Harvard Chemistry Department. Three of the first-year grad students, Al Hortmann, Bob Dawson and I, were invited to make the eastward journey to become part of the first Corey Group at Harvard. Only the essential equipment was packed for the new laboratories, and ALL the rest of the equipment had to be purchased upon arrival at Harvard. That was the first culture shock that we were to undergo. Whereas Illinois had a huge, common-equipment stockroom, every group at Harvard had their own, carefully-guarded, equipment. Whereas Illinois had a chemical stockroom where reagents were free for the taking, we had to buy our reagents at Harvard. Basically we started from scratch. The transition was difficult, but Professor Corey made significant changes to the Harvard culture that made it a better place to do chemistry.
I am personally very grateful for the education that I received from E. J.. What I learned from the master chemist has served me well over the past 50 years. His contagious love of chemistry has enriched my life beyond measure. His generous sharing of knowledge has encouraged me to do the same. Thank you, E.J., from the bottom of my heart. Very best wishes for a happy and healthy 80th Birthday and for many years to come.
7/11/2008Ron NewboldYou have profoundly influenced us allDear Professor Corey - Very best wishes to you on your 80th Birthday! It is hard to believe it has been nearly 20 years since I first met you as a postdoctoral fellow, as I remember those 2 years with great fondness and pride. The friends I made there and the personal and professional growth I enjoyed at Harvard remain among my most cherished memories, and I have you to thank for that. I was fortunate to be among the group of students and postdocs in your laboratories in 1990 when you were awarded the Nobel Prize, and as many of us felt at that time, we were able to enjoy your celebration with enthusiasm and with the support of hundreds of former members of the Corey group before us.

To me, one of the most important lessons you taught us through your example was to be thorough and to work diligently to be the best we could be. You set very high standards for all of us - including yourself - and continue to do so in all your work. I am proud to have worked with you, and wish you all the best.
7/12/2008Paust, Achimthe nitroso-compound It happened sometime in 1967:

Two hard working postdoctoral fellows named Paust and Vedej were minding their own business and sitting at their desk talking chemistry (of course), while using the gyratory evaporator. Suddenly, a big bang (not the theory!) and the two of them found themselves under their desk, a thick cloud of smoke hovering above, quickly filling the lab and hallway. Fearful of his first research group fatalities, Prof. Corey called out for his valued fellows asking what happened. The dutiful fellow that Paust was, he answered quite matter of fact: "the nitroso-compound rearranged!" The exothermic next step had happened too early, could it have been too hot of a bath??? In any regard, the team was assembled at once, all work was suspended for the day(!) and everyone spontaneously went to the beach.

Best wishes to Prof. Corey's 80th Birthday from the responsible party to one of the bigger accidents in the ejcorey group.

Congratulations and the very best wishes on your 80th Birthday, EJ and many more to come, Achim




7/14/2008Block, Eric45 years and counting!I have known E.J. for 45 years. While some of his former students refer to him as a father figure, when I joined his group in 1963, E.J. was only 35 -- at the time the youngest full professor at Harvard. E.J. likes to tell me the story of how in 1963 he was considering limiting the number of new graduate students he would accept that year when, within minutes of each other, both Richard Glass and I knocked on his office door and announced that we would like to work for him. He was gracious enough to accept us both. Richard and I, and our families, have been friends ever since, as well as scientific collaborators in recent years. We arranged to photograph our joint birthday greetings to E.J. on July 2, 2008 from Novodevichy Park in Moscow (see Photograph Section), while we were both in Moscow attending an organosulfur symposium. We can thank E.J. for bringing us together 45 years ago as well as for kindling our mutual life-long interest in sulfur chemistry. Indeed a benefit of being a Corey Group member is the many wonderful former members that I have gotten to know and visit over the years.
Several memories of my relationship to E.J. come to mind. In 1966 E.J. asked me into his Converse Basement office and said that it was time to write a paper on a just completed portion of my thesis research. He opened his bottom desk drawer, pulled out a sheaf of yellow paper he always kept handy, and began writing. I still have the neatly written original draft of the manuscript, which without change was typed and submitted for publication. The reviews shortly came back recommending “publication without change.” That was certainly a seminal experience for me, and I quickly came to appreciate the unique clarity and brilliant way of highlighting the essence of a scientific problem that characterizes E.J.’s writing style. Indeed I am one of many former Group members to have followed E.J.’s example in writing books as well as selecting research projects of sufficient general interest to merit publication in JACS.
A more recent memory involves an incident that occurred on a particularly auspicious day in E.J.’s life, October 17, 1990. After it had been announced that morning that E.J. was the sole recipient of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, I received a call inviting me to share in the celebration at a party at the house of Jeremy Knowles. In my haste to get to Cambridge that afternoon I was driving a bit too fast on the Massachusetts Turnpike and was pulled over by one of Massachusetts’s Finest. I explained to the Trooper that I was distracted and excited listening to a radio interview at that very moment with Corey, to whose Nobel Prize celebration party I was driving. I remember telling the story to E.J. at his party that afternoon and he said with a wink, “well since I’ve just come into some unexpected money, I’d be happy to pay for the ticket.”
One of the small ways that I tried to repay E.J.’s generosity and kindness toward me was to send him Harry Orf, my first undergraduate research student from my days at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. E.J. and I are both proud of Harry, who is Vice President for Scientific Operations, Scripps Florida.
I have been very fortunate in being able to stay in touch with E.J. over the years, while teaching Chem. 20b at Harvard in 1974, when visiting my son David when he was an undergraduate at Harvard, and while visiting my nephew Michael Lazarus who is currently a graduate student in chemistry at Harvard. I was delighted that in 2005 E.J. accepted an invitation to receive an honorary degree from the University at Albany. After E.J. dined with a faculty group at President Kermit Hall’s residence following the honorary degree ceremony, Hall commented, “E.J. is a wonderfully humble, gracious, smart, and endearing person -- the perfect choice for a distinguished award and a great person to have on campus.“
E.J., thank you for all that you have done for former group members long after they have left Harvard. You set a wonderful example for all of us to follow in our own careers and personal lives. May your 80th year be all that you wish, may you continue to enjoy good health, happiness, and pleasant days with your growing family, and if you are so-inclined, may you have many further opportunities to publish and lecture.
7/15/2008Bernd W. SpurBirthday greetingsDear Professor Corey, my best wishes for your 80th birthday and to all your family! I still remember the days at Harvard and all the following visits. Especially after you were awarded the Nobel Price you told me a story that you got at a Chinese restaurant a fortune cookie telling you that an award is waiting for you: and it was true. I’ll still take Chinese food from time to time. I’ll admire all your excellent work.
Best wishes
Bernd
7/16/2008Peter LillyaEarly Days at Harvard: The Evening SeminarIn 1959 E J and I both arrived at Harvard. I knew mostly the basics of chemistry and little of the Harvard faculty, having been attracted mostly by the Harvard name. I was attracted by E J’s youth, enthusiasm and the impressive range of his interests. At the time, the group was small comprising some who had followed E J from Illinois like Bob Dawson, Ron McCauley and Al Hortman, at least one post doc, Tom Kaiser, and beginning PhD students like Joe Frantantoni, Roland Winter and me. Tom Kaiser, a Chicago boy, had taken a Postdoctoral position with E J happily anticipating being near Chicago, but he found himself still in Cambridge. We were in the basement of Converse mixed with the Woodward students we were replacing as E J’s group expanded. My first lab mates were the Woodward students Kirby Scherer and Chris Foote, both Harvard undergrads who taught me a lot about the Department and Cambridge as well as about chemistry. Later I shared with and learned from post docs like Dan Pasto, Bengt Samuelsson, Gerd Schupfner, Kaso Sestanj, and Hisahi Uda.

Because the group was small and E J’s responsibilities has not reached the awesome level they did later, there were opportunities to sit in E J’s office and talk chemistry. This was something he loved to do. Discussions were free form with no planned agenda; he thought through many things as they arose. He also listened being genuinely interested in what you thought. E J followed developments well beyond the traditional borders of organic chemistry and thought about how they could be applied in his chemistry. Angular dependence of interaction of sulfonyl groups with alpha lone electron pairs was an example. The crystal structure of tetramenthyl bis-sulfonamide was determined in collaboration with Lipscomb’s group. The first sample of carefully grown crystals sent over to Gibbs dissolved irreversibly in the Duco cement customarily used to attach crystals to the X-ray probe!

Something I looked forward to most was the evening group seminar. In the early days we met weekly and would go out to dinner beforehand. We ate at places like Joyce Chen’s and Durgin Park. Japanese post docs in the department researched Chinatown and declared Cathay House the best restaurant; it went on the list. At Durgin Park where serving sizes were legendary, German post docs (I’ll accuse Horst Konig, Gerd Schupfner and Rudi Winter) complained of “zu viel Fleish und zu wenig Kartoffeln”. Abraham P. Vatakencherry, ‘Paul” was legendary for his ability to load twice the amount on his plate from the buffet at Joyce Chen’s than his nearest competitor. Someone was assigned to talk at the seminar after dinner, and after the talk discussion could diverge to almost any topic. Nothing was sacred; the structure proof of longifolene was reexamined even as Masaji Ohno was synthesizing it. (The proof was solid.)

Group activities featured trips to Plum Island near Newburyport. Everyone brought something to eat for a potluck feast. The beaches seemed endless with none of the crowding we saw at Crane Beach near Ipswich. But the water was so cold that I recall only EJ and my wife, Maija, swimming. EJ lover the outdoors and organized a group trip on Columbus Day to hike on the Mt. Washington range in New Hampshire. None of us students has hiking gear. Under EJ’s guidance, we went to an army surplus store for packs and to Filene’s Basement for Boots. We climbed to “Crag Camp” on the north side of the range through rain. After a night in the cabin, we climbed Mt. Adams through swirling cloud. The rocks were decorated with hoarfrost feathers, some 4-5 inches long. We groped our way from one cairn to the next and were rewarded by occasional glimpses of Wildcat across Pinkham Notch from the windswept summit. After another night at “Crag Camp” we explored above tree line in biting wind in air so clear we thought we could see all the way to the ocean.

My time in E J’s group was one of the most intense and rewarding of my life, and I remember it with great pleasure. I did learn that I’d never do my best chemistry in synthesis and ranged widely through other areas in my own research. But I would exchange the education in organic chemistry I got with E J for no other. A bonus was the helpful support E J has provided me throughout my career in chemistry.
7/16/2008Venkateswarlu AkellaMemories of Association with Prof E J COREY ( 196I carry happy memories of my Post Doctoral Research Fellowship and
association with Prof E J Corey. Every moment of the research
carried out under his direction has been exciting. Even more
exciting were the brief interactions with him in the mornings and
late afternoons during the tenure.

The most memorable research contribution that I made was the
discovery and development of t-Butyldimethylsilyl Chloride for
protection of hydroxyl groups . This contribution came about in the
course of the main project involving prostaglandin synthesis that I
carried out.

Befitting statements made in the 1972 JACS publication, the TBDMS
protection of hydroxyl groups turned out to be so common that the
JACS publication continued to be among the most cited contributions
in organic chemistry even after 35 years from the date of
discovery. So much so, I feel amused and rather proud being known
as TBDMS VENKAT among the chemistry friends.

Sharing the laboratory facilities and day-to-day interactions with
other excellent Post Doctoral Researchers ( Ryoji Noyori, Kazuo
Achiwa, Tom Schaff, Ravi verma, Ravindranathan, Sem Albanico, shiro
Terashima, Haruhisa shirahama , to name a few, ) and Graduate
Students ( Hisashi yamamoto, David Cane, Louies Hegde, Joel Shulman
and others ) in EJC Group has been a great experience. Indeed Prof
corey has provided us this most unique opportunity being a
researcher in such a diverse international research group.

My own career development and advancement in research & management
in Pharma Industry have been largely influenced by the leadership
qualities that I aquired during my rich tenure in EJC Group at
Harvard.

On the occasion of his 80th Birthday proposed to be celebrated with
a surprise gift of a specially created website, I take this
opportunity to wish Prof Corey with many happy returns of the day
and many more years of useful and productive research under his
direction.
2/6/2012Robert KaniaInlyta approvalProfessor Corey,

I just wanted to write you a quick note to thank you again for the excellent training I received as a PhD student in your group. I have been asked in recent days to reflect back on the discovery of Inlyta. The timeline: The training I received in your group immediately preceded my work that discovered Inlyta. I defended my thesis in September, 1997. Within weeks, I started at Agouron as the first chemist on a new project, VEGF. Key design elements for Inlyta (Axitinib, AG-013736) were conceived within a 19 month window and the specific molecule was made, by me, in under two years from graduating from your group. The principles you taught, of efficiency and close examination of non-covalent interactions in asymmetric synthesis, were the foundation of my thinking in this period (and continue to be successfully translated to drug design). The strength of my synthetic background and continued strong work ethic, that was shaped in your group, powered the progression of the discoveries. I wanted you to know just how important your influence was in making the discovery of Inlyta possible.

Deepest respect,

Rob Kania

10/1/2013Alan LongTalk on Where ChemDraw Came FromSome scientific breakthroughs come from fortuitous accidents: for example, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 because he left a petri dish open and some mold spores got in and inhibited the growth of some bacteria.

But the LHASA Project was a calculated, not a fortuitous, breakthrough. Nobel Laureate E.J. Corey made a conscious decision to do something that hadnot been done before, to teach a computer to plan organic syntheses.

So how would you go about doing that? There were a lot of problems to be solved, and figuring them out was a lot of fun. The project was started at Harvard in the late 1960's. LHASA (Logic and Heuristics Applied to Synthetic Analysis) is a program that helps chemists plan syntheses of complex organic molecules, using a retrosynthetic analysis approach invented by E.J. Corey. The graphical interface for LHASA, originally implemented on the earliest of Digital Equipment Corporation computers, the PDP-1, was the inspiration for ChemDraw and the entire chemical graphics industry.