It was extraordinarily exciting for me to receive the Janssen Pharmaceutica prize for Creativity In Organic Synthesis, one of my field’s most recognized and prestigious honors. The connection to Paul Janssen and his scientific legacy is especially significant.
Eric Jacobsen was born in New York City and received his B.S. degree from New York University in 1982. His Ph.D. work was done at U.C. Berkeley under the direction of Robert Bergman. In 1986, he returned to the East Coast of the U.S. for an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at MIT with Barry Sharpless. In 1988, he began his independent career on the faculty at the University of Illinois. He moved to Harvard University as full professor in the summer of 1993, and he was named the Sheldon Emory Professor of Organic Chemistry in 2001. He served an extended term as Chair of the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology from 2010 to 2015.
Eric Jacobsen directs a research group dedicated to discovering useful catalytic reactions, and to applying state-of-the art mechanistic and computational techniques to the analysis of those reactions. Several of the catalysts developed in his labs have found widespread application in industry and academia. These include metal-salen complexes for asymmetric epoxidation, conjugate additions, and hydrolytic kinetic resolution of epoxides; chromium-Schiff base complexes for a wide range of enantioselective pericyclic reactions; and organic hydrogen bond-donor catalysts for activation of neutral and cationic electrophiles. Jacobsen’s mechanistic analyses of these systems have helped uncover general principles for catalyst design, including electronic tuning of selectivity, cooperative homo- and hetero-bimetallic catalysis, hydrogen-bond donor asymmetric catalysis, and anion binding catalysis.
In addition to the Janssen Prize (2010), the awards Jacobsen has received include the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (1990), the Packard Fellowship (1991), the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1992), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (1992), the ACS Cope Scholar Award (1993), the Fluka “Reagent of the Year” Prize (1994), the Thieme-IUPAC Prize in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (1996), the Baekeland Medal (1999), the ACS Award for Creativity in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (2001), the NIH Merit Award (2002), election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2004), the Mitsui Catalysis Science Award (2005), the ACS H.C. Brown Award for Synthetic Methods (2008), election to the National Academy of Sciences (2008), the Noyori Prize (2011), the Nagoya Gold Medal Prize (2011), the Chirality Medal (2012), the Remsen Award (2013), the Esselen Award (2015), and the ACS Arthur C. Cope Award (2016).