William Standish Knowles

Knowles, William Standish, 1917–2012, American chemist, b. Taunton, Mass., Ph.D. Columbia, 1942. He was a research chemist at the Monsanto Company for his entire career (1942–86). Knowles was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Ryoji Noyori and Barry Sharpless for the development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis, with the work of Knowles and Noyori focusing on hydrogenation and that of Sharpless on oxidation (see oxidation and reduction). Most molecules in nature exist in chiral forms (optical isomers) whose structures mirror each other, with one form often biologically active and the other inactive. Catalytic asymmetric synthesis, an enzymelike process that can quickly produce an excess of one of these chiral forms, has led to improved methods of producing drugs that have only one useful chiral form, such as l-dopa, and also has applications in the production of industrial biomaterials.

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