FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 28, 2018

American Chemical Society names K. Barry Sharpless 2019 Priestley Medalist

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2018 — The American Chemical Society (ACS) will award K. Barry Sharpless, Ph.D., of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, the 2019 Priestley Medal, the highest honor bestowed by ACS.

ACS is recognizing Sharpless for multiple advances: “the invention of catalytic, asymmetric oxidation methods, the concept of click chemistry and development of the copper-catalyzed version of the azide-acetylene cycloaddition reaction.”

“Dr. Sharpless has made numerous contributions to chemistry that have each significantly moved the field forward,” says ACS Executive Director and CEO Thomas Connelly, Jr., Ph.D. “Whether his work in asymmetric synthesis, which earned him the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2001, or the development of the concept of click chemistry, his service to advancing chemistry is beyond measure. He is truly deserving of the Priestley Medal, and I offer my heartfelt congratulations.”

Click chemistry was a revolutionary approach. In this strategy, molecular building blocks are selectively reacted, or “clicked,” with each other in simple, reliable reactions that are performed in benign or easily removable solvents. The signature example is the copper-catalyzed version of the azide-alkyne cycloaddition reaction.

“Instead of focusing on bond-forming that is difficult, organic chemists were encouraged to use and create bond-forming processes that are easy to perform,” says M. G. Finn, Ph.D., chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “The idea of click chemistry has become part of the fabric of the molecular sciences, as well as a field in its own right.”

Sharpless introduced the concept at the ACS national meeting in Anaheim, California, in March 1999. It has been adopted for a wide range of applications in materials and surface science, medicinal and combinatorial chemistry, and drug discovery.

“The ink had scarcely dried on his Nobel certificate before he introduced the most enduring of his ‘click’ reactions: the copper-catalyzed version of the reaction of azides and acetylenes,” says Julius Rebek, Ph.D., director of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research. “This chemistry has come to dominate coupling reactions throughout chemistry and chemical biology.”

Sharpless is the W. M. Keck professor of chemistry at Scripps Research, where he has been a faculty member since 1990. He holds 26 patents and is an author of 361 publications. In addition to his Nobel Prize, his national and international awards include the inaugural Paul Janssen Prize for Creativity in Organic Synthesis, the King Faisal International Prize in Science, the Rhone Poulenc Medal, the Chemical Sciences Award of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Benjamin Franklin Medal and the Wolf Prize.

The American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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K. Barry Sharpless, Ph.D.
Credit: Ike Sharpless