Donald J. Cram, Host-Guest Chemistry,
Cram's Rule of Asymmetric Induction and Carceplexes

Resources with Additional Information · Cram Honored

Donald J. Cram
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UCLA Photography

Donald J. Cram … taught and conducted research at UCLA for more than 50 years … .  A chemist at UCLA since 1947, Cram opened broad new avenues for exploration across organic chemistry, with applications in both basic research as well as specific fields, such as pharmaceutical production and the medical testing industry.

Don's brilliant creativity, integrity, and enthusiasm for life and science have forever changed “teaching in organic chemistry, and altered the shape and substance of the chemical research frontier,” said M. Frederick Hawthorne, university professor of chemistry at UCLA and one of Cram's earliest graduate students. “Don was a giant in organic chemistry; his research affects the many ways organic chemistry now appears in our daily lives.”

In his host-guest research, Cram created synthetic host molecules that mimic some of the actions that enzymes perform in cells. Since 1970, he and his colleagues designed and prepared more than 1,000 hosts — each with unique chemical and physical properties.

These molecules are designed to attract and bind — in other words, to serve as hosts — to specific guest molecules, which can be either organic molecules or inorganic ions.   …

Twenty years after beginning work in host-guest chemistry, [a field he helped to create,] Cram won the Nobel Prize [in Chemistry] in 1987 … .

After winning the Nobel Prize and entering his 70s, Cram embarked on a bold and sophisticated extension of his original work: a new field he called “carceplex” chemistry, a process in which one molecule (a carcerand) captures another inside of it — with a result that creates a new phase of matter.

Born in 1919 in Vermont, Cram developed an interest in chemistry in his senior year of high school. He received his B.S. in chemistry at Rollins College in 1941. He earned his master's degree in organic chemistry at the University of Nebraska; he completed his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1947 after serving during World War II as a research chemist at Merck & Co., where he worked on the penicillin program.

“In my first year of college, I was told by my chemistry professor — now an old friend — that academic research is a wonderful profession, but I did not have a good enough mind for it,” Cram said in 1985. “That was the best thing that could have happened to me. I decided to prove him wrong.”  …

Describing his love of chemistry and his work, Cram said, “when I first heard the word ‘research,’ it meant to me that the only limitations are your own resourcefulness and creativity, and that was precisely what I wanted. The physical and life sciences are the main frontiers left in the world today for exercising the pioneer spirit.”


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