Fisherman and Scientist

Gifts to the Dartmouth College Fund help make great things happen for our students. Here is one of their stories.
K. Barry Sharpless ’63 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001, with William S. Knowles and Ryoji Noyori, for developing the first chiral catalysts. His awards and honors include the King Faisal International Prize for Science and membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He joined the chemistry faculty at MIT in 1970 and became the W.M. Keck Professor of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in 1990. He received his AB in chemistry from Dartmouth in 1963 and a PhD in chemistry from Stanford University in 1968.

From an early age I loved exploring in rivers and oceans. My family had a summer place on the Manasquan River in New Jersey, four miles from the Atlantic Ocean. 
My parents could not keep me off the water, so at about age eight, they gave me a little boat with an outboard motor. The incoming tide would transform the river into a big basin full of aquatic life—large fish, blue crab, and eel. I spent many hours hunting and fishing for a rare sea creature. I had no idea my passion for sea life would transform later on into a love of chemistry. 
I started at Dartmouth as a pre-medical student, mainly because my parents always hoped I would become a doctor, like my father.
Then my sophomore year, I took an organic chemistry class with a young chemistry professor, Tom Spencer, who chose me to do research in his lab. That changed my life.
Tom was always happy to have undergraduates who performed well in chemistry courses do research in his lab—an exciting opportunity for me. Instead of looking for fish, I was now trying to discover new and unusual chemical reactions. 
Tom saw talent in me that I didn’t even know I had, and he inspired me right off the bat. He was precise, demanding, and very encouraging. He truly cared about his students and had a deep impact on all of us in his lab. 
He really encouraged me to go on to graduate school in chemistry. He even chose the program for me at Stanford, and chose my graduate research advisor, Eugene van Tamelen, a world-famous chemist.
Tom always pushed me to dig further and encouraged independence of mind. I will always be grateful to him and to Dartmouth.