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Donald J. Cram

Donald J. CramAKA Donald James Cram

Born: 22-Apr-1919
Birthplace: Chester, VT
Died: 17-Jun-2001
Location of death: Palm Desert, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Synthesis of molecules

American chemist Donald J. Cram won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1987, sharing the highest honor in science with Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen, for work that effectively created a new scientific field called host-guest chemistry. He spent the early years of his career researching artificial enzymes, and had an immediate epiphany after reading Pedersen's 1963 paper reporting the discovery of the first crown ethers (macrocyclic compounds containing repeat units of -CH2CH2O-, or any similar compound containing nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus or silicon atoms instead of or in addition to oxygen atoms), so called because they physically resemble crowns.

He spent the next two days constructing physical models of molecules, to determine which "host" structure would be most accommodating to "guest" molecules for bonding. Adapting Pedersen's findings to the theoretical synthesis of three-dimensional molecules that mimic the functioning of natural molecules, he developed this into a new methodology, host-guest chemistry, for synthesizing molecules that mimic certain chemical reactions of life. He taught at UCLA for almost five decades, where he traditionally celebrated the last day of school by performing folk songs on his guitar in class. He was also a skilled surfer.

In a famous mix-up, when Cram won his Nobel Prize a representative of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences mistakenly telephoned and congratulated a California carpet cleaner also named Donald Cram, who became a minor celebrity for several days.

Father: William Cram (attorney, d. pneumonia)
Mother: Joanna
Sister: Elizabeth
Sister: Kathleen McLean
Sister: Margaret Fitzgibbon
Wife: Jean Turner Cram (m. 22-Dec-1941, div. Oct-1969, no children)
Wife: Jane Maxwell Cram (chemist, m. Nov-1969, d. 2000, no children)
Wife: Catherine Collett Cook (m. Sep-2000, no children)

    High School: Winwood School, Long Island, NY (1937)
    University: BS, Rollins College (1941)
    University: MS, University of Nebraska (1942)
    University: PhD Oganic Chemistry, Harvard University (1947)
    Scholar: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1947)
    Teacher: University of California at Los Angeles (1947-56)
    Professor: University of California at Los Angeles (1956-88)
    Professor: Winstein Professor of Chemistry, University of California at Los Angeles (1985-95)

    ACS Newby McCoy Award 1965
    ACS Arthur C. Cope Award 1974
    California Scientist of the Year 1974
    ACS Newby McCoy Award 1975
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1987 (with Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1967
    American Chemical Society
    National Academy of Sciences 1961
    National Research Council Fellowship, 1940-41
    Merck Research Chemist
    Nabisco Summer work as salesman (1938), chemist (1939-41)
    Kodak Scientific Consultant
    Union Carbide Scientific Consultant
    Upjohn Scientific Consultant
    Canadian Ancestry (maternal and paternal)
    German Ancestry (maternal)
    Scottish Ancestry (paternal)

Author of books:
Organic Chemistry (1964, textbook; with George Simms Hammond)
Fundamentals of Carbanion Chemistry (1965, chemistry)
Elements of Organic Chemistry (1967, textbook; with George Simms Hammond, John Richards)
The Essence of Organic Chemistry (1978, textbook; with Jane Maxwell Cram)
From Design to Discovery (1990, memoir)
Container Molecules and Their Guests (1994, chemistry; with Jane Maxwell Cram)


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