Karl Barry Sharpless

Karl Barry Sharpless (born April 28, 1941) is an American chemist and Nobel Laureate known for his work on stereoselective reactions and Click Chemistry.

Karl Barry Sharpless
Born (1941-04-28) April 28, 1941
NationalityUnited States
Alma materDartmouth College
Stanford University
Harvard University
Known forenantioselective synthesis, click chemistry
AwardsPriestley Medal (2019)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2001)
Wolf Prize (2001)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2001)
Rylander Award (2000)
Chemical Sciences Award (2000)
Chirality Medal (2000)
Rhone Poulenc Medal (2000)
Harvey Prize (1998)
Microbial Chemistry Medal (1997)
King Faisal International Prize (1995)
Cliff Hamilton Award (1995)
Tetrahedron Prize (1993)
Centenary Lectureship Medal (1993)
Arthur C. Cope Award (1992)
Scheele Award (1991)
Chemical Pioneer Award (1988)
Dr. Paul Janssen Prize (1986)
Allan Day Award (1985)
Scientific career
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Stanford University
The Scripps Research Institute
ThesisStudies of the mechanism of action of 2,3-oxidosqualene-lanosterol cyclase: featuring enzymic cyclization of modified squalene oxides (1968)
Doctoral advisorEugene van Tamelen

Early life & education

Sharpless was born April 28, 1941 in Philadelphia, PA. He graduated from Friends' Central School in 1959,[1] and continued his studies at Dartmouth College, earning an A.B. in 1963 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University in 1968.[2] He continued post-doctoral work at Stanford University (1968–1969) and Harvard University (1969–1970).

Academic career

Sharpless was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1970–1977, 1980–1990) and Stanford University (1977–1980).[3] He has held the W. M. Keck professorship in chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute since 1990.


Sharpless developed stereoselective oxidation reactions, and showed that the formation of an inhibitor with femtomolar potency can be catalyzed by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, beginning with an azide and an alkyne. He discovered several chemical reactions which have transformed asymmetric synthesis from science fiction to the relatively routine, including aminohydroxylation, dihydroxylation, and the Sharpless asymmetric epoxidation.[4]

In 2001 he won a half-share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on chirally catalysed oxidation reactions (Sharpless epoxidation, Sharpless asymmetric dihydroxylation, Sharpless oxyamination). The other half of the year's Prize was shared between William S. Knowles and Ryōji Noyori (for their work on stereoselective hydrogenation).[5]

His group has also successfully epoxidized (using racemic tartaric acid) a C-86 Buckminster Fullerene ball, employing p-Cresol as solvent.

The term "click chemistry" was coined by Sharpless in 1998, and was first fully described by Sharpless, Hartmuth Kolb, and M.G. Finn at The Scripps Research Institute in 2001.[6][7] This involves a set of highly selective, exothermic reactions which occur under mild conditions; the most successful example is the azide alkyne Huisgen cycloaddition to form 1,2,3-triazoles.[8]

Awards & Honors

Sharpless was a recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on "chirally catalysed oxidation reactions".[9]

In 2019, Sharpless was awarded the Priestley medal, the American Chemical Society's highest honor, for “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.”.[10][11]

He holds honorary degrees from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (1995), Technical University of Munich (1995), Catholic University of Louvain (1996) and Wesleyan University (1999).[3]

Personal life

Sharpless married Jan Dueser in 1965 and they have three children.[4] He was blinded in one eye during a lab accident in 1970, shortly after he arrived at MIT as an assistant professor.[12]


  1. "2019 Priestley Medalist K. Barry Sharpless works magic in the world of molecules". Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  2. Sharpless, Karl Barry (1968). Studies of the mechanism of action of 2,3-oxidosqualene-lanosterol cyclase: featuring enzymic cyclization of modified squalene oxides (Ph.D.). Stanford University. OCLC 66229398 via ProQuest.
  3. Henderson, Andrea Kovacs (2009). American Men & Women of Science. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. Cengage Learning. p. 764. ISBN 9781414433066.
  4. "K. Barry Sharpless". Notable Names Database. Soylent Communications. 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  5. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2001". Nobelprize.org. The Nobel Foundation. 2001. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  6. Kolb, Hartmuth C.; Finn, M. G.; Sharpless, K. Barry (June 1, 2001). "Click Chemistry: Diverse Chemical Function from a Few Good Reactions". Angewandte Chemie. 40 (11): 2004–2021. doi:10.1002/1521-3773(20010601)40:11<2004::AID-ANIE2004>3.0.CO;2-5. ISSN 1521-3773. PMID 11433435.
  7. Modular click chemistry | ScienceWatch | Thomson Reuters. ScienceWatch. Retrieved on 2014-06-16.
  8. Evans, Richard A. (2007). "The Rise of Azide–Alkyne 1,3-Dipolar 'Click' Cycloaddition and its Application to Polymer Science and Surface Modification". Australian Journal of Chemistry. 60 (6): 384. doi:10.1071/CH06457. ISSN 0004-9425.
  9. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2001". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  10. "2019 Priestley Medalist K. Barry Sharpless works magic in the world of molecules". Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  11. "K. Barry Sharpless named 2019 Priestley Medalist". Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  12. A cautionary tale from the past | MIT News Office. Web.mit.edu (1992-03-11). Retrieved on 2014-06-16.
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