June 18, 2024

The Welch Foundation Announces 2024 Welch Award Recipient

Harvard University Sheldon Emery Professor of Chemistry Eric N. Jacobsen to be honored for advancements in chemical research

Houston, TX – June 18, 2024 – The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemical research, announces Professor Eric N. Jacobsen as the 2024 recipient of the prestigious Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Professor Jacobsen is a key figure in the field of organic chemistry and has made ground-breaking discoveries in catalysis and organic synthesis. With this award, The Welch Foundation is recognizing Professor Jacobsen for his incredible work uncovering new ways to speed up chemical reactions and utilizing the most advanced tools and techniques to understand how these reactions work.

“Professor Jacobsen is a trailblazer in the field of chemistry, and his work with small molecule catalysts has been revolutionary for understanding how they work,” said Fred Brazelton, Chair, The Welch Foundation Board of Directors. “The Welch Award aims to recognize the top minds in the field of chemistry, and Eric is a natural pick. We are excited to honor his contributions to the field and look forward to adding his name to our list of distinguished recipients.”

For more than 30 years, Professor Jacobsen has made significant contributions within the field of organic chemistry and has fundamentally altered the comprehension and implementation of asymmetric catalysis. His breakthroughs with small molecule catalysts in asymmetric catalysis, using precise interactions to guide chemical reactions and ensure specific outcomes, has allowed chemists to effectively design and create more useful molecules. By introducing and inventing catalyst design concepts that aid in influencing the efficiency and directionality of synthetic organic chemistry reactions, Professor Jacobsen has changed the trajectory of this field.

“Professor Jacobsen’s work has had profound impacts on how we understand small molecular catalysts and their role in asymmetrical catalysis, which in turn has changed our lives as chemists and human beings alike,” said Catherine J. Murphy, Chair, The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “A leader in the space, Eric’s work has not only set the standard for evolving small molecular asymmetric catalysis, but his work also impacts our day-to-day lives through applications such as the use of his reactions in large scale, late-stage synthesis on numerous FDA approved drugs. Eric has also provided an important and supportive learning environment for chemists over his long tenure as a professor, encouraging and fostering minds as they train. He is the embodiment of this award, and we at the Welch Foundation are excited to include him as a Welch Award recipient.”

Professor Jacobsen graduated from New York University in 1982 with a B.S. in Chemistry. He conducted his Ph.D. studies at U.C. Berkeley under the direction of Robert Bergman in the field of mechanistic organometallic chemistry. In 1986, he returned to the east coast for an NIH postdoctoral fellowship with Barry Sharpless at MIT, where he participated in the discovery of the osmium-catalyzed asymmetric dihydroxylation reaction. He began his independent career at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1988, before moving to Harvard as a full professor in 1993. He was named the Sheldon Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry in 2001 and served as Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology between 2010 and 2015.

Professor Jacobsen has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Packard Fellowship (1991), the Baekeland Medal (1999), the ACS Award for Creativity in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (2001), 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), the Noyori Prize (2011), the Chirality Medal (2012), the Remsen Award (2013), the Esselen Award (2015), the Award for Creativity in Molecular Design and Synthesis (2016), the ACS Arthur C. Cope Award (2016), the Humboldt Research Award (2020), and the Willard Gibbs Medal (2024). He has also received over 90 plenary and named lectureships from institutions, foundations, and companies around the world.

The purpose of the Robert A. Welch Award is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of humankind as set forth in the will of Robert Alonzo Welch. Upon accepting the award, Professor Jacobsen will receive $500,000 and a gold medallion.

Since 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed over $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental research grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. In 2023, the Foundation expanded its grant programs to include the Postdoctoral Fellows Grant Program, the Catalyst for Discovery Program Grants, the WelchX Retreat and Pilot Grants, and the Equipment Grant Program. In addition to the Welch Award in Chemistry, recognizing achievement in basic research internationally, the Foundation also bestows the annual Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research to early-career Texas scientists. For more information, visit www.welch1.org.


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