Gilbert Stork

Gilbert Stork (December 31, 1921 – October 21, 2017)[2] was an organic chemist. For a quarter of a century he was the Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at Columbia University.[3] He is known for making significant contributions to the total synthesis of natural products, including a lifelong fascination with the synthesis of quinine. In so doing he also made a number of contributions to mechanistic understanding of reactions, and performed pioneering work on enamine chemistry, leading to development of the Stork enamine alkylation.[3]:111[4] It is believed he was responsible for the first planned stereocontrolled synthesis as well as the first natural product to be synthesised with high stereoselectivity.[5]

Gilbert Stork
Born(1921-12-31)31 December 1921
Died21 October 2017(2017-10-21) (aged 95)[1]
NationalityBelgian, American
Alma materUniversity of Florida B.S. 1942
University of Wisconsin–Madison PhD 1945
AwardsACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1957)
NAS Award in Chemical Sciences (1982)
National Medal of Science (1982)
Wolf Prize (1996)
The Ryoji Noyori Prize (2003)
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard University
Columbia University
Notable students

Stork was also an accomplished mentor of young chemists and many of his students have gone on to make significant contributions in their own right.

Early years

Gilbert Stork was born in the Ixelles municipality of Brussels, Belgium in December 31, 1921.[6][7] The oldest of 3 children, his middle brother, Michel, died in infancy, but he remained close with his younger sister Monique his whole life. His family had Jewish origins, although Gilbert himself didn't recall them being religiously active.[6] The family moved to Nice when Gilbert was about 14 (circa. 1935) and remained there until 1939. During this period, Gilbert completed his lycée studies, distinguishing himself in French literature and writing. Characterizing himself during those years as "not terribly self-confident," and uncertain whether he could find employment in a profession he enjoyed, Gilbert considered applying for a colonial civil service job in French Indochina.[5] However, the outbreak of World War II that year led the family to flee to New York, where his father's older brother, Sylvain, had already emigrated.


Gilbert studied for a Bachelor of Science at the University of Florida, from 1940 to 1942. He then moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison for this PhD, which he obtained in 1945 under the supervision of Samuel M. McElvain.[8] While at Wisconsin he met Carl Djerassi, with whom he would go on to form a lasting friendship.


  • 1946 Harvard University: Instructor; 1948 Assistant Professor
  • 1953 Columbia University: Associate Professor; 1955 Professor; 1967–1993 Eugene Higgins Professor; *1993 Professor Emeritus[9]

Elected to


The explosive steak

During his time at the University of Wisconsin, Stork kept a steak on his windowsill in the winter in order to keep it refrigerated. The steak began to degrade and to dispose of it Stork put it in a hot acid bath used to clean glassware which contained nitric and sulphuric acids. He was then concerned he would produce nitroglycerine due to the glycerine in the steak and the presence of nitric and sulphuric acids. However, due to the high temperature of the bath, the oxidation of glycerol was much faster than the nitration of glycerin thus preventing the formation of explosives.[5]

Awarded Honorary Fellowship or membership


Professor Stork received a number of awards and honors including the following:[11]

Stork also held honorary doctorates from Lawrence University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of Paris, the University of Rochester, and Columbia University.[14][15]

The inaugural Gilbert Stork Lecture was held in his honor in 2014 at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[3][16] Gilbert Stork named lecture series are also held at other institutions, including Columbia University[17] and the University of Pennsylvania, as a result of his endowments.[18]

He was fêted for his sense of humor and colorful personality by historian of chemistry Jeffrey I. Seeman who published a collection of "Storkisms".[19]


  1. Wender, Paul A. (2017). "Gilbert Stork (1921–2017)". Nature. 551 (7682): 566. doi:10.1038/d41586-017-07527-8. PMID 29189811.
  2. Nakamura, Eiichi; Winkler, Jeffrey D.; Aggarwal, Varinder K. (2018). "Gilbert Stork (1921–2017)". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 57 (1): n/a. doi:10.1002/anie.201711474. ISSN 1521-3773. PMID 29193592.
  3. Hargittai, István; Hargittai, Magdolna (2003). More conversations with famous chemists ([Verschiedene Aufl.] ed.). London: Imperial College Press. pp. 109–119. ISBN 978-1-86094-336-2. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  4. Stork, Gilbert; Terrell, Ross; Szmuszkovicz, Jacob (April 1954). "A New Synthesis of 2-Alkyl and 2-Acyl Ketones". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 76 (7): 2029–2030. doi:10.1021/ja01636a103.
  5. Seeman, Jeffrey I. (2012-03-19). "Gilbert Stork: In His Own Words and in the Musings of His Friends". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 51 (12): 3012–3023. doi:10.1002/anie.201200033. ISSN 1521-3773. PMID 22383434.
  6. Stork, Gilbert (December 2011). "Chemical reminiscences" (PDF). Tetrahedron. 67 (51): 9754–9764. doi:10.1016/j.tet.2011.10.007. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  7. "C&EN's Top 75". Chemical and Engineering News. January 12, 1998. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  8. "UW Madison Chemistry Newsletter for 2/17/2014 Mon". University of Wisconsin. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  9. Hoffman, Frances (1982). "Gilbert Stork: A Celebration of 35 Years in Research & Teaching". Aldrichimica Acta. 15: 1–10.
  10. "Faculty Named to Learned Society". Columbia University Record. 20 (29). May 17, 1995. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  11. "Emeritus Professor Gilbert Stork (Columbia University) was awarded an honorary member from the Chemical Society of Japan". Chemical Society of Japan. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  12. "Gilbert Stork". The Royal Society. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  13. "Ira Remsen Award". Maryland Section. 14 November 2018. Archived from the original on 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  14. Morris, Colin (January 10, 2005). "Chemistry Department Continues Award-Winning Legacy". Columbia News. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  15. Richardson, Lynda (May 20, 1993). "COMMENCEMENTS; Columbia Chief Stresses Role of Teacher". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  16. "Seminars". UW Madison Chemistry Newsletter. October 27, 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  17. "Named Lecture The Gilbert Stork Lecture". Columbia University. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  18. "Gilbert Stork Lecture". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  19. Halford, Bethany (2012-03-06). "Gilbert Stork on How Not to Dispose of a Steak". The Safety Zone. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
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