Elias James Corey


Elias James Corey
(1928)

American chemist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1990, principally for his work in "retrosynthetic analysis," a technique for simplifying the synthesis of large complex molecules.
Corey studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S., 1948; Ph.D., 1951) and held his first teaching position at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (1951-59). He became professor of chemistry at Harvard University in 1959 (becoming the Sheldon Emory professor in 1968) and there, with his graduate students, synthesized some 100 molecules hitherto found only in nature. One class of drugs for which Corey was well known is the synthetic prostaglandins--hormonelike compounds used to treat infertility and to induce labour. Another substance first made by Corey is ginkgolide B, an active chemical originally identified in the ginkgo tree, which is used to treat asthma and circulatory problems.

In the retrosynthetic analysis that Corey developed, chemists start with the target molecule and work backward, carefully analyzing its structure and dissecting it piece by piece. By systematically breaking key chemical bonds that join the major components of the target molecule, chemists ultimately arrive at a set of simple precursors. These then can be reassembled into the target molecule in the least possible number of steps using the simplest possible reactions, thereby making the synthesis faster, cheaper, and more efficient.


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