Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Old-skool chemists

Dr. Breslow literally changed my life. I worked in his laboratory in 1964–65 as a “prep boy,” running syntheses for the graduate students and postdocs. I probably made more methylcyclopropenone than [any] other person on the planet, before or since. Even though I was the lowest of the low, Dr. Breslow included me in all the activities of his group. His group meetings were amazing. I learned more in them than I learned in most classes. Dr. Breslow also arranged for me to take classes at Columbia University. I had had three years at another college, but the classes at Columbia were on an entirely different level. One of the classes I took was biochemistry, taught by Dr. Breslow, in which I earned an A+. The entire experience transformed me from a C student to an A student. I later went on to earn my Ph.D. in chemistry, which I probably would not have done were it not for my time with Dr. Breslow. I can’t express enough my gratitude to and affection for this wonderful, caring human being. 
Franklin P. Mason 
I took advanced organic synthesis with Gilbert in 1965. What impressed me the most is that he’d come into class sans notes, pick up a piece of chalk, put his hand to his forehead, and say “OK,” and proceed to give a perfectly presented one-hour lecture. Of course there were mechanisms for every reaction, etc., but the smoothness of it all always stuck with me. RIP Gilbert. 
Philip Warner
Good stuff - "prep boy" is an interesting one. 


  1. Thanks for posting this. I'm a low level guy (not a faculty member) with a PhD but manages several undergraduates. I want them to have a good experience, and this is a reminder of the influence I may have---keep it up beat, and keep any bitterness about how academia works and poor job prospects to myself (!)

    1. I agree with you, with a caveat about job prospects. I feel responsible for accurately informing trainees of their prospects. Yes, I need to do that without bitterness, but I do need to inform them.

  2. I worked for neither Breslow nor Stork but went to Columbia. Always enjoyed their hallway and elevator anecdotes. Their comments at departmental seminars and organic problem solving sessions were always informative. I definitely feel like I learned a lot from both, despite not being in their groups or taking any classes with them. I think simply witnessing their attitude towards science and research is a blessing, which in turn affects ones own outlook.