What would Woodward do — take II

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  Mark Twain.

The Harvard Chemistry Department chair arrested?  And for what?  For lying and hiding research work he was doing for China.

“The arrangement between Lieber and the Chinese institution spanned “significant” periods of time between at least 2012 and 2017, according to the affidavit. It says the deal called for Lieber to be paid up to $50,000 a month, in addition to $150,000 per year “for living and personal expenses.”

Who knew betraying your country could be so lucrative?  Of course these are allegations, and have to be proved in court.

What would the great Robert Burns Woodward (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns_Woodward) say to this?  He’s already spinning in his grave over the slings and arrows heaped on pure synthetic organic chemistry.  For details see part of an old post at the end.

Interesting how the department has changed.  No Chinese there at all ’60 – ’62 (even postdocs).  There were several Japanese and Sikh postdocs along with a fair number of happy go lucky Australians.

Chemistry applications can be lucrative.  The new Princeton Chemistry Building was built thanks to professor Ted Taylor, whose royalties on Alimta (Pemetrexed), an interesting molecule with what looks like guanine, glutamic acid, benzoic acid and ethane all nicely stitched together to form an antifolate, to the tune of over 1/4 of a billion dollars built it.

It’s interesting to note that the Princeton undergraduate catalog for ’57 – ’58 has Dr. Taylor basically in academic slobbovia — he’s only teaching Chem 304a, a one semester course “Elementary Organic Chemistry for Basic Engineers” (not even advanced engineers)

For details please see  — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/princeton-chemistry-department-the-new-oberlin/

What would Woodward do ?

Sleeper is one of the great Woody Allen movies from the 70s.  Woody plays Miles Monroe, the owner of (what else?) a health food store who through some medical mishap is frozen in nitrogen and is awakened 200 years later.  He finds that scientific research has shown that cigarettes and fats are good for you.  A McDonald’s restaurant is shown with a sign “Over 795 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Served”

I returned from my father’s 100 year birthday blowout and band camp and began attacking a giant pile of accumulated unread journals.  In the 9 August Nature (p. 630 – 631)  2007 he was amazed to read criticism of a 64 step 22 year synthesis of an exquisitely complex molecule (azadirachtin) — a molecule in which it is easier to count the number of optically INactive carbons than the optically active ones.  Back in the 60s we were all impressed with how Woodward got the 5 asymmetric centers in a 6 membered ring of reserpine (which was in use as an antihypertensive at the time, and whose fairly common side effect of depression was one of the clues leading to the amine theory of affect).  Rip was surprised to find that the criticism was not that the synthesis was incorrect, but that the project shouldn’t have been done at all.  Apparently a significant body of organic chemists think this way.

Political correctness has left few groups which it is safe to disparage.  With apologies to one of them (Christians) I’ve got to ask “What would Woodward do?”

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  • The Grim Reaper  On January 29, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    It is ironic that Bill Doering, RB’s former student and colleague inaugurated the first program to bring the top of the top students to a number of elite university departments in the 80s. Me thinks everyone on Oxford Street part and present are spinning in their grave. Very sad.

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