William Standish Knowles

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William Standish Knowles
File:William Standish Knowles.jpg
Born (1917-06-01)June 1, 1917
Taunton, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died June 13, 2012(2012-06-13) (aged 95)
Chesterfield, Missouri, U.S.
Fields Chemistry
Institutions Thomas and Hochwalt Laboratories
Monsanto Company
Alma mater Harvard University (B.S.), Columbia University (Ph.D.)
Doctoral advisor Robert Elderfield
Known for Chiral phosphine ligands that proved effective in the enantioselective synthesis of L-DOPA
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2001)

William Standish Knowles (June 1, 1917 – June 13, 2012) was an American chemist. He was born in Taunton, Massachusetts. Knowles was one of the recipients of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shared half the prize with Ryōji Noyori for their work in asymmetric synthesis, specifically for his work in hydrogenation reactions. The other half was awarded to K. Barry Sharpless for his work in oxidation reactions.[1]


Knowles attended Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He led his class academically and upon graduation was admitted to Harvard University after passing the College Board exams. Feeling that he was too young to go to college, Knowles spent a year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. At the end of the year, he captured his first award in chemistry, the school's $50 Boylston Prize.[2]

After his year in preparatory school, Knowles attended Harvard, where he majored in chemistry, focusing on organic chemistry. He received his undergraduate degree in 1939, and attended Columbia University for graduate school.[2]

Awards and honors

Nobel Prize

He shared half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 with Ryōji Noyori for "their work on chirally catalysed hydrogenation reactions". The other half of the prize was awarded to K. Barry Sharpless for the development of a range of catalytic asymmetric oxidations. Knowles developed one of the first asymmetric hydrogenation catalysts by replacing the achiral triphenylphosphine ligands in Wilkinson's catalyst with chiral phosphine ligands. This experimental catalyst was effective for enantioselective synthesis, achieving a modest 15% enantiomeric excess.


Knowles was also the first to apply enantioselective metal catalysis to industrial-scale synthesis; while working for the Monsanto Company he developed an enantioselective hydrogenation step for the production of L-DOPA, utilising the DIPAMP ligand.[6][7]

L-DOPA synthesis2.png

Personal life

Following his retirement in 1986, Knowles resided in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. In retirement he restored native prairie grasses on a 100-acre farm that his wife had inherited. He was married to his wife, Nancy, for 66 years and had four children, Elizabeth, Peter, Sarah and Lesley McIntire. He also had four grandchildren. Knowles died in Chesterfield on June 13, 2012 at age 95. He and his wife had previously stated that their farm would be donated to be converted into a city park after their deaths.[8]


  1. Yun, O. (2005). "Profile of William S. Knowles". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (47): 16913–16915. doi:10.1073/pnas.0507546102. PMC 1287994. PMID 16286647.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "William S. Knowles - Autobiography". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2011-04-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Chemical Pioneer Award". American Institute of Chemists. Retrieved 30 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. David M. Isserman / Isserman Consulting LLC / www.isserman.com (2012-04-19). "Academy of Science - St. Louis :: Academy Initiatives :: Outstanding St. Louis Scientists Awards". Academyofsciencestl.org. Retrieved 2012-06-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. http://www.academyofsciencestl.org/initiatives/outstanding_scientists/pdfs/AOS%20%20INVITE%202008.pdf
  6. Vineyard, B. D.; Knowles, W. S.; Sabacky, M. J.; Bachman, G. L.; Weinkauff, D. J. (1977). "Asymmetric hydrogenation. Rhodium chiral bisphosphine catalyst". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 99 (18): 5946–5952. doi:10.1021/ja00460a018.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Knowles, William S. (2002). "Asymmetric Hydrogenations (Nobel Lecture) Copyright© The Nobel Foundation 2002. We thank the Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, for permission to print this lecture". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 41 (12): 1998. doi:10.1002/1521-3773(20020617)41:12<1998::AID-ANIE1998>3.0.CO;2-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "William Knowles, Nobel Winner in Chemistry, Dies at 95". The New York Times. June 15, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links