History

History

Harvard’s contribution to the study and teaching of experimental chemistry spans more than 225 years, and contains many “firsts”:

1791

The first specific gift for chemical education in America, the Erving Professorship of Chemistry, given by Harvard graduate William Erving (class of 1753), major in the British army.

1819

“The Elements of Chemical Science,” the first American textbook of chemistry, written by Harvard’s second Erving Professor of Chemistry, John Gorham.

1850

Harvard's first laboratory for teaching experimental chemistry to undergraduates, built in the basement of University Hall. It lacked gas and running water.

1860 

The first chemical physics journal, “Elements of Chemical Physics,” published by Erving Professor of Chemistry, Josiah Parsons Cooke.

1877

The first Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard, awarded to Frank Austin Gooch under the direction of Professor Cooke.

1914  

The first American recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Harvard chemistry professor Theodore William Richards and former student of Professor Cooke, for research into the determination of atomic weights.

Contributions to Harvard

Harvard’s chemists have made profound contributions to the governance and stewardship of Harvard itself. In 1869, 35-year-old Charles William Eliot, who had been a student of Cooke and an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, became president of Harvard. He served in that capacity for 40 years, transforming the university from a small college to an international research university. The transformation continued during the 20-year presidency of James Bryant Conant (1933-53), a student of Theodore William Richards who became professor of organic chemistry and chair of the department before ascending to the University’s highest position.

Conant mentored Louis Fieser, who helped establish Harvard as the preeminent department for organic synthesis. During his presidency, Conant was active in bringing many young and influential chemists into the department: Robert Woodward (whose career began as a Junior Fellow), Paul Bartlett, George Kistiakowsky, and E. Bright Wilson. He also hired Paul Doty, Frank Westheimer and Konrad Bloch, who together established biochemistry as a major effort at Harvard.

More recently, Professor Jeremy Knowles served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard from 1991 to 2002, and again from 2006 to 2008. Dean Knowles was a strong force in the implementation of the numerous cross-disciplinary, collaborative programs that exist among the various science departments today.

Although the department’s size has remained small, it continues to have enormous impact on academic chemistry throughout the world, by research accomplishment and the training of generations of academic chemists who are influential in chemistry departments around the world. Recognitions achieved by members of CCB include election to the National Academy of Science for department faculty going back to the days of Josiah Parsons Cooke; currently many of the faculty share this honor. 

Notable Awards

2015-Albany Prize in Medicine to Xiaoliang Sunney Xie
2014-Blavatnik Prize to Adam Cohen
2013–Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Martin Karplus
2013–Welch Award to David Evans
2012–Wolf Prize in Chemistry to Charles Lieber
2010–Welch Award to Christopher Walsh
2009–Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Jack Szostak
2009–Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Sciences to George Whitesides
2007–Priestley Medal to George Whitesides
2005–Welch Award to George Whitesides
2004–Priestley Medal to E. J. Corey
2003–Kyoto Prize to George Whitesides
2002–National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences to E. J. Corey
1998–National Medal of Science given to George Whitesides
1995–Welch Award to Jeremy Knowles
1993–National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences to Richard Holm
1991–National Medal of Science given to Dudley Herschbach
1990–Welch Award to William von Eggers Doering
1990–Nobel Prize in Chemistry to E. J. Corey
1989–Japan Prize in Chemistry to E. J. Corey
1988–Priestley Medal to Frank Westheimer
1988–National Medal of Science given to Konrad Bloch and E. J. Corey
1986–Wolf Prize in Chemistry to E. J. Corey
1986–Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dudley Herschbach
1986–National Medal of Science given to Frank Westheimer
1982–Welch Award to Frank Westheimer
1981–Welch Award to Paul Bartlett
1980–National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences to Frank Westheimer
1978–Welch Award to E. Bright Wilson
1976–Nobel Prize in Chemistry to William Lipscomb
1975–National Medal of Science given to E. Bright Wilson
1972–Priestley Medal to George Kistiakowsky
1968–National Medal of Science given to Paul Bartlett
1967–National Medal of Science given to George Kistiakowsky
1965–Publication by the National Academy of Sciences of “Chemistry: Opportunities and Needs,” known as the Westheimer Report
1965–Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Robert Burns Woodward
1964–Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology to Konrad Bloch
1964–National Medal of Science given to Robert Burns Woodward
1944–Priestley Medal to James Bryant Conant