Chemists: Their Work and Lives
Born in 1904, Carolina MacGillavry graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1925, the year in which quantum mechanics was theoretically “born”, which greatly inspired her. In 1928, she held a very up-to-date colloquium on quantum mechanical calculations on the hydrogen molecule. She shifted fields to crystallography, and completed her PhD on “X-ray diffraction of Veelling crystals”) in 1937. Her research interests in crystallography were broad and included studies of biomolecules such as vitamin A. She is known for developing “direct methods”, using calculus to solve crystal structures. Later she took an interest in MC Escher and symmetry, and gave popular lectures on the topic.
Appointed to the faculty of the University of Amsterdam in 1950, she was the first female member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In her lab, she trained 21 graduate students and was known for her welcoming, collegial lab environment. Learn more about her life and work from Wikipedia and the University of Amsterdam.
Kristin Labby, Chemistry
Masataka Taketsuru is known as the founder of the Japanese whiskey industry. Born in 1894 to a family of sake brewers, he moved to Scotland at the age of 24 to study applied and organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow. During his time in Scotland, he combined his passions for distilling spirits and organic chemistry to apprentice in the Scottish Whiskey trade.
After two years of study Masataka moved back to Japan and resumed his previously held position at a commercial drinks company. When his superiors would not allow him to introduce whiskey to the Japanese market, Masataka realized he would need to do so independently. After securing a location where he could harvest peat, easily obtain coal, and access spring water, Masataka established his own distillery on the island of Hokkaido in 1934. His company, Nikka Whiskey, has now been in operation for 86 years, and its expertly crafted whiskey is a testament to its creator’s love of organic and applied chemistry.
Asima Chatterjee, was born on September 23, 1917 in Calcutt, West Bengal, to a family of doctors and was the eldest of two children. As she pursued her education, she chose to specialize in organic/medicinal chemistry). She did research at UW Madison as well as Caltech. In 1944 she was the first woman in India to receive a doctorate in chemistry.
Her research into natural products led to the biggest achievements of her career, the development of drugs against epilepsy and malaria. She also demonstrated that vinca alkaloids, which come from Madagascar, can help slow the multiplication of cancer cells. Her work has been cited multiple times and she has received many awards for it.
Dr. Chatterjee’s accomplishments and awards are considerable in themselves, but are even more fascinating given that she achieved them during a time when women were not given a choice of career.
Dr. Ncoza Dlova is a groundbreaking dermatologist who uses chemistry for the betterment of Black individuals and communities. She has done research on Black skin and hair, and is best known for her clinical research on skin lightening treatments. Dr. Dlova has used NMR, MS, and cell assays to investigate its cytotoxicity. The purpose of her research is to protect BiPOC users of skin lighteners. Dr. Dlova hopes her research will be used for public education against skin lighteners.
Beyond laboratory work, Dr. Dlova plays an active role in supporting Black communities. She is a principal dermatologist in five outpatient clinics, and works with patients who face the complications of skin lightening. She provides medical assistance, while also advocating for self-acceptance of darker skin tones. Dr. Dlova is also passionate about supporting Black dermatologists. To date, she has mentored 20 students.
“From the beginning of my dermatology career, my mission was to nurture black dermatologists who could reach out to the rural communities and provide dermatology services where none existed, while educating patients about skin disorders.”
Learn more about her important work from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Kelly Chibale, born in 1967, was a very unsuccessful child. Denied access to the University of Zambia (UNZA), he took a step back to figure out his life. Thus, chemistry, a great interest of his and something that he could truly excel at, became his calling. Chibale, now a graduate of UNZA as well as the University of Cambridge, England, were he earned his PhD, is a very successful 52-year old man.
Founder of the South African Medical Research Council Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, Chibale specializes in Drug Discovery. Currently, he is promoting the power of diversity and collaboration in his studies. Kelly says to others, “There are no formulas to success. Don’t conform and don’t let other people define success for you- you will always have critics.”
The first ever Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize, Tu Youyou received the prize in 2015 for her contributions to medical research. In particular, her research identified artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin as two important antimalarial drugs, saving the lives of millions around the globe.
Born in 1930, Tu Youyou pursued her education at a time when such opportunities were just opening up for women in her country. Her research combines the traditions of Chinese and Western medicine. Describing the achievements of her research team, she said: “Our long journey searching for antimalarial drugs began with collection of relevant information and recipes from traditional Chinese medicine.”
For more information, please see her biography on the Nobel Prize website.
Daniel Youd, Modern Languages
Born in 1867 in Saint Petersburg,, Russia, Vera Yevstafievna Popova is known as the first female Russian chemist. In 1883, she studied for four years at the Bestuzhev Courses, and afterwards worked for two years in laboratories at the Academy of Sciences and the Military Surgical Academy. She went to Switzerland to receive her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Geneva. She originally worked on dibenzyl ketone and defended her research on it in 1892, but wanted to move on to work on H-C≡P, also known as methylidynephosphane. However, she was persuaded to continue with her research on dibenzyl ketone by her doctoral supervisor, Professor Carl Gräbe. She also worked with Dr. Philippe Auguste Guye in Geneva.
In the same yea, she returned to Russia to teach stereochemistry as an assistant professor at the Bestuzhev Courses. Here, she wrote her first chemistry textbook, becoming the first Russian female to do so. When not in her lab, she was interested in writing, languages, and entomology, and even published her work on bees in 1889.
She died in an explosion in her laboratory after she attempted to synthesize H-C≡P. This chemical was not successfully synthesized until 1961. The compound was found to be incredibly pyrophoric, easily able to polymerize at temperatures over -120ºC, and found to burn at low temperatures when exposed to air.
Grace Scott ’22
Molly Shoichet, the first Chief Scientist in Ontario, specializes in chemistry, biomaterials, and biomedical engineering. While studying for her doctorate at the University of Massachusetts in engineering and polymer science, she took an interest in the brain-blood barrier, focusing on drug delivery and tissue regeneration. One of Molly’s lab methods consisted of using a gel to allow drugs to deliver to a specific site in the central nervous system where it bypasses the blood-brain barrier. With this discovery, chemotherapy medications and agents may slow down or reverse the damage of strokes.
In 2013 Molly was rewarded with the “Inventor of the Year” award and the “Kalev Pugi Award of the Chemical Institute of Canada” in 2017. She also won the “Killam Prize” for engineering and became the Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017.
Jade Mosquera ’23
At a early age, Karen Field wanted to be a vet but failed every biology class she took. After taking a chemistry class, she changed her mind. She taught at several different schools and universities. During her first few years teaching, she tried to pass off as male but soon realized that wasn’t who she was, so she transitioned into the female is she today. She encourages students and adults that you can still be you and be successful; you don’t need to follow certain standards.
Her teaching style is very hands on and she is constantly trying to find new ways to make science fun. As a proponent of positivity, her “leave no one behind” attitude makes her a truly inspiring scientist.
Born in 1919 to a well-educated Jewish family, Levi was a gifted student. Reading Concerning the Nature of Things by Sir William Bragg let him to a passion for chemistry. Accepted into a competitive chemistry course at the University of Turin just before the situation for Jews began to change drastically, he wrote his graduation thesis on Walden inversion, but struggled to find someone to supervise it. Dr. Nicolo Dallaporta chose to work with Levi allowing him to graduate with a merit in 1941.
Labelled a Jew, he only found work after adopting a false name. Ironically, his work at an asbestos mine extracting nickel aided the German war efforts. Eventually, he found new work extracting anti-diabetic substances from vegetable matter. Soon after attempting to flee German custody he was arrested and taken to Auschwitz. He used his wit and knowledge of chemistry to secure a privileged position which allowed him to survive to later tell his story. Levi’s book, The Periodic Table, is considered one of the best science books ever published.
Learn more about Primo Levi.
Born in 1953, molecular chemist Bai earned a PHD from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1985. Despite having limited resources, he oversaw the construction of China’s first Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). Afterward, he led the expansion of CAS to a full university.
Bai’s contributions to molecular nanostructure, organic molecular crystal structure, and Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, have been recognized internationally, as described by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Zachary Weinberg ’23
Born in Osaka, Japan, Akira Yoshino studied technology at Kyoto University and then joined the Asahi Kasei chemical company in 1972, with which continues to be associated. Since 2005 he has headed his own laboratory at Asahi Kasei. Having received his doctorate at Osaka University in 2005, Dr. Matsuda has been a professor at Meijo University in Nagoya since 2017.
A Noble Prize winner, his citation reads: “Storing electrical energy in batteries is a key factor in solving the world’s energy supply. The element lithium is useful in batteries since it willingly releases electrons. In 1985 Akira Yoshino developed a battery with an anode of petroleum coke, a carbon material which, at a molecular level, has spaces that can house lithium ions. This was the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery. Such batteries are widely used in electrical equipment, for example mobile phones and electric cars.”
Read about Akira Yoshino on the Nobel Prize website.
Born in 1968, Emmanuelle Charpentier earned her doctorate at the Institut Pasteur in 1995, having investigated molecular mechanisms involved in antibiotic resistance. Viral and bacterial systems are the main focus of her work.
Best known for deciphering the molecular mechanism of a bacterial immune system, called CRISPR/Cas9, she and her colleagues helped repurpose it into a genome editing tool. Collaborating with Jennifer Doudna, an American biochemist, since 2011, her work has shown that Cas9 can be used to make cuts as desired DNA sequences; this facilitates genome editing. The development of CRISPR/Cas9 technology, with Jennifer Doudna, was recognized by a 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Growing up in rural Kenya with six siblings, Gachanja found a love for science at a young age. After completing a bachelor of sciences with a focus on chemistry at the University of Nairobi, he moved to the UK to pursue a s PhD at the University of Hull, where he became captivated by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS).
After a ten-year postdoctoral fellowship, he returned to home to Kenya, where eventually he became a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in facing chemistry laboratories in Kenya. A scarcity of resources plagued the country’s research capacity. Subsequently, Dr. Gachanja contacted friends and acquaintances in the UK to request equipment for the labs. Based on the respect and knowledge he had established, he was able to acquire a GC-MS instrument, a first for a public institution in Kenya. Dr. Gachanja has run GC-MS training since 2009 and continues to educate his students and fellow scientists on the complex use of analytical instruments. He believes that furthering the world of analytical chemistry in Kenya will help it solve the economic conflicts that currently affect the country.
Read more about Anthony Gachanja from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Franklin was born in London in 1920. At age 18 she enrolled to Cambridge University where she studied chemistry and physics, and received a PhD in 1945. She then moved to Paris for about four years to perfect her skills and knowledge of X-ray crystallography, which became her life’s work. She returned to London and accepted a role at King’s College to establish an X-ray diffraction laboratory.
While at King’s College, Maurice Wilkin was a colleague; however, a misunderstanding caused them to work in isolation. Wilkins eventually established a company, Francis Crick and John Watson. Unknown to Franklin, Watson and Crick had been introduced to some of her unpublished work, including the “photo 51”. Combining their own research with Franklin’s data they created their famous DNA model, for which they were awarded the nobel prize in 1962. Franklin’s contribution was not acknowledged until after her death in 1958 of ovarian cancer.
In 1953, five years before her death, she was forced to leave King’s College, and joined Birkbeck College, where she studied coal and virus structure. During this time, at the height of her career, she passed away at just 37 years old.
Learn more about Rosalind Franklin from Nature.
Dorothy Hodgkin was born in Cairo to parents with a love for the sciences. Having developed an interest for both archaeology and chemistry at a young age, she pursued both at Oxford University’s Somerville College, where she was introduced to crystallography. While working on her PhD at Cambridge, she became aware of X-ray crystallography potential to determine the structures of proteins.
In 1945, Hodgkin discovered the atomic structure of penicillin. Nine years later, in 1954, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work on the atomic structure of vitamin B12. Thirty-five years of research on the structure of insulin led to the determination in 1969 that x-ray crystallography could cope with this complex molecule. Solving the structure of insulin made mass production of insulin possible and gave scientists the information necessary to alter the drug and improve its production for diabetes patients in the future. Hodgkin’s use of X-ray crystallography to determine molecular structures is now an essential tool in structural biology.
Born on September 2,1877 in Eastbourne, England, Frederick Soddy graduated from Merton College in Oxford, England in 1898. He then went to Montreal, Canada, to work at McGill University with Ernest Rutherford. Soddy and Rutherford showed that radioactivity was caused by radioactive decay which is known as transmutation. In 1913, Soddy formulated the importance of isotopes. In 1921, Soddy received a Nobel Prize for chemistry on his work from radioactive decay and identification of isotopes. He died in 1956. Soddy hoped that people in the future would be able to harness science for the benefit of society. His last work focused on a uranium material now named after him called soddyite.
Learn more about Frederick Soddy from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, as a young child Mario Molina was extremely interested in chemistry. Supporting his obsession with the topic, his parents sent him to a chemistry-based boarding school in Europe. Following this Molina attended college and earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, and studied mathematics and science in Germany and France. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he met F. Sherwood Rowland from UC Irvine. Together they studied chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) emissions and the effects they have on the atmosphere. Molina’s increased interest in the subject lead him to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, where he continued to investigate ozone depletion. The theories that Molina produced led to the increase of international regulations of CFCs, but many people did not support or listen to them because they were hypothetical, computer-based theories.Then, in 1983, British scientist Joseph Farman and his colleagues observed that the ozone above Antarctica was dropping significantly compared to that of the 1960’s levels. This breakthrough finally gave Molina and Rowland the accreditation they deserved. In 1995 Molina and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Swedish scientist Paul Crutzen, for the work they had done in helping unravel the mysteries and dangers of CFCs.
Read more about Mario Molina at the Science History Institute.
Dr. Ifat Parveen looked up to her older brother growing up. He taught her to view chemistry as the foundation of the world. This inspired her to pursue a career helping people with cancer in pharmaceutical sciences. Graduating from the University of Bath with a degree in synthetic medicinal chemistry, her research combines biological sciences and chemistry. By examining chemical compounds in plants, she identifies biorefinery potential in order to determine the feedstocks that have the best genotypes to improve fermentation, as well as the thermochemical energy that can be used in manufacturing, renewable energy, and medicine. Through the Widening Participation and Social Inclusion program, she encourages participation in science discussions.
Learn more about Ifat Parveen at Beacon Wales.
Geetha grew up with her grandparents in India dreaming to become a doctor. Despite losing her mother at an early age and having to care for her blind father, and disabled cousin, she managed to do really well with her school work. A merit scholarship from the Central Government of India enabled her to study chemistry at Avinashilingam University. After beginning her MPhil, she married and moved to Karaikudi to continue doctoral studies. A PhD in the synthesis of conducting polymers using ionic liquids, led to a Senior Research Fellowship from CSIR in 2004. She then took up a postdoctoral position at Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) in Northern Ireland. Not only did she thus experience geographical diversity, she also had a chance to enjoy a varied research experience in chemistry, from electrochemistry to petrochemistry. Geetha was presented the L’Oréal - UNESCO Outstanding Woman in Science award in 2012-2013 for her work and is currently developing a novel medical device that can prevent and cure hospital-bound urinary tract infection.
Read more about Geetha Srinivasan from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Dr. Reiko Kuroda grew up in Akita, Japan and then attended Ochanomizu University to study chemistry as an undergraduate. Her doctorate in chemistry is from the prestigious University of Tokyo. Although she wanted to continue her research in the chirality of both inorganic and organic molecule, she was told by her supervisor that as a woman she should get married rather than continue her work. Consequently, she decided to relocate to King’s College in the UK. There, her interest in biology grew and she began studying the effects of chirality in body patterns of living organisms. Returning to Japan, Dr. Kuroda was the first woman to be offered a full time professorship at the University of Tokyo. She continues to be an advocate for women in the sciences and for the environment.
Dr. Reiko Kuroda is best known for her work on left and right asymmetry in chemistry and molecular biology. Specifically she contributed in the identification of a single gene in snails that was found to be related to Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2009, Dr. Kuroda was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She also is a Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences. In 2013, she received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.
Learn more about Reiko Kuroda from Club of Rome.
Born in 1853, Ostwald took an early interest in science. As as a teenager he was known to experiment with fireworks and photography. Eventually, Ostwald got an unpaid job in the lab of Carl Schmidt at the University of Dorpat, where he learned the basis of inorganic chemistry, including analysis of inorganic compounds and chemical equilibria. In 1878 he completed his doctoral dissertation on Volumetric and Optical-Chemical Studies and became a paid advisor to Carl Schmidt. Ostwald moved to Leipzig University in 1887 where he would remain until his retirement in 1906. During his time at the university he advised many researchers who would go on to be Nobel laureates. Notably, In 1901 Albert Einstein applied for a research position in Ostwald’s laboratory but was rejected.
Ostwald received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909 for his contributions to understanding catalysis and for his investigations of the fundamental principles underlying chemical equilibria and reaction rate.
See more about Wilhelm Ostwald on the Nobel Prize website.
Omar M. Yaghi was born in Jordan in 1965 to a family of refugees who had fled Palestine, and grew up without access to clean water or electricity. At the age of 15, knowing little English, he moved to the United States to attend college. He started at a small community college in New York before transferring to the University of Albany to finish his degree. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1990. During his professional career, Yaghi has been one of the most cited chemists alive. He was a pioneer in the field of reticular chemistry, which involves the linking of molecular building blocks via strong bonds in order to make crystalline structures. Specifically, he led the teams that created metal-organic frameworks and covalent organic frameworks. Beyond just synthesizing these compounds, he has worked to apply them to clean energy technologies. His work in reticular chemistry has also lead to major developments in nanotechnology, such as molecular weaving. He is now the James and Neeltje Treetter Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley.
Blumenthal, based in London, is credited as being the pioneer of multi-sensory cooking and is a celebrated expert of “molecular gastronomy”. Combining cooking and chemistry to create dishes that far from dull the tongue, he has opened several experimental kitchens and has received numerous high honorary degrees and awards for his contributions to culinary chemistry and novel dining experiences. These include an “Order of the British Empire”, recognition as a “Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry”, and honorary doctorates).
Together with a colleague at Oxford University, he explores the impact of sound on on the pleasantness of taste. Within his restaurants, he enhances the sensory experience via headphones, visuals, ambiance, and, scented dry ice.
With his first restaurant named “The Fat Duck”, his motto is to “question everything”. Smell, taste and see more at Dinner by Heston, Wikipedia, Star Chefs and the Royal Society of Chemistry. May you dine well.
Lesley Yellowlees is a British inorganic chemist who graduated from Edinburgh with a BSc in chemical physics, the only girl in her class to do so. She then earned a PHD in solar energy. Years later she was elected as the first female president of the royal society of Chemistry. In this time as president she pushed for equality and diversity within STEM courses. The 175 Faces of Chemistry that developed under her presidency was a way for her to do just that. The 175 Faces of Chemistry recognized and showcases the wonderful/inspirational people that have studied chemistry. Of all of her accomplishments, the 175 faces of chemistry is the one she’s most proud of.
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons