Karl Barry Sharpless was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1941 and received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University. Following post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard and Stanford universities, he pursued an academic and research career and became a Professor at Massachussets Institute of Technology in 1970. In 1990, he took the William M. Keck Chair of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He is also a Visiting Professor at Kitasato University, Japan and Honorary Professor at the Technicological University in Hong Kong. Besides, he is an awarded Fellow of many distinguished institutions including the American Association for the Advancment of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Science, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Sloane Foundation, Camille and Henry Dreyfos Foundation, Sherman Fairchild Foundation, Simon Guggenheim Foundation (Gerrmany), the Kitasato Institute, Japan (Honorary) and the Royal Society of London (Honorary). He is also a member of the editorial boards of seven chemistry journals.
Professor Sharpless’s research interest centers on asymmetric catalysis involving both early and late transition metal-mediated processes. His landmark research led to the development of chiral catalysts for organic oxidation, resulting in the production of enantiomerically-pure compounds with new properties. His technique is dubbed “mirror image chemistry.” Today, the results of his prodigious work are used in the industrial syntheses of pharmaceutical products, including certain antibiotics, heart medicines, anti-inflammatory durgs and antidepressants. Among the many other earlier contributions by Professor Sharpless are the synthesis of malibaricane diol, the elucidation of mechanisms of allylic oxidation of olefins by selenuim dioxide and the discovery of the first organoselenium reagents for use in organic synthesis.
Professor Sharpeless published more than 355 papers and was named a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate in Chemistry in 1997. His remarkable achievements in chemistry were punctuated by numerous prestigious awards and honors. He was the King Faisal International Prize for Science recipient in 1995, and co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 for his work on chiral catalysis for organic oxidation. His other honors comprise more than 20 prizes and medals including the Tetrahedron Prize, Arthur C. Cope Award, Prelog Medal (Switzerland), Paul Janssen Prize (Belgium), Roger Adam Award, National Academy of Science Award, Wolf Prize, William H. Nicolas Medal, Sheele Medal (Sweden), Chiralty Medal (Italy), John Scott Medal (city of Philadelphia), and Benjamin Franklin Medal. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College, the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology, Technological University of Munich, the Belgian Catholic University and Wesselyan University.
Professor Sharpless, has been awarded the Prize in recognition of his discovery of two new methods for producing enantiomerically pure compounds, which are molecules having all single chirality, be they right-handed or left-handed. Many of the reagents developed by Barry Sharpless have taken their place on the shelves of chemistry laboratories throughout the world and the techniques he has invented are now commonly used in those laboratories. He is described as “one of the most creative and intuitive organic chemists of his generation”. His synthesis of pure compounds with a single chirality or handedness has a considerable impact since some molecules which can have a beneficial effect on the living organism when they are of a particular handedness, can be harmful or even lethal if they are of the opposite handedness.