K. C. Nicolaou

K. C. Nicolaou bigraphy, stories - Chemists

K. C. Nicolaou : biography

July 5, 1946 –

Kyriacos Costa Nicolaou () is a Cypriot-American chemist known for his total syntheses of natural products. He is currently a professor at The Scripps Research Institute as well as UCSD, although he will move to Rice University in 2013.


K. C. Nicolaou has received numerous awards and honors including:

  • Schering Prize (Germany)
  • Aspirin Prize (Spain)
  • Max Tishler Prize Lecture (Harvard)
  • Yamada Prize (Japan)
  • Janssen Prize (Belgium)
  • Nagoya Medal (Japan)
  • Centenary Medal (Royal Society UK)
  • Paul Karrer Medal (Switzerland)
  • Inhoffen Medal (Germany)
  • Nichols Medal (USA)
  • Linus Pauling Award (USA)
  • 1998 Esselen Award (USA)
  • ACS Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (USA)
  • ACS Guenther Award in Natural Products Chemistry (USA)
  • 2003 Nobel Laureate Signature Award in Graduate Education (with Phil S. Baran)
  • Tetrahedron Prize Award
  • 2011 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry (Franklin Institute USA)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Member of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Several honorary degrees


He is also the co-author of three popular books on total synthesis:

  1. Classics in Total Synthesis I, 1996
  2. Classics in Total Synthesis II, 2003
  3. Classics in Total Synthesis III, 2011

Additionally, he authored or co-authored several other books:

  1. Molecules That Changed the World, 2008
  2. Handbook of Combinatorial Chemistry: Drugs, Catalysts, Materials, 2002
  3. Selenium in Natural Products Synthesis, 1984


K. C. Nicolaou was born on July 5, 1946, in Karavas, Cyprus where he grew up and went to school until the age of 18. In 1964, he went to England where he spent two years learning English and preparing to enter University. He studied chemistry at the University of London. (B.Sc., 1969, Bedford College; Ph.D. 1972, University College London, with Professors F. Sondheimer and P. J. Garratt). In 1972, he moved to the United States and, after postdoctoral appointments at Columbia University (1972–1973, Professor T. J. Katz) and Harvard University (1973–1976, Professor E. J. Corey), he joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where he became the Rhodes-Thompson Professor of Chemistry. While at Penn, he won the prestigious Sloan Fellowship.

In 1989, he started at the University of California, San Diego, where he is Professor of Chemistry, and The Scripps Research Institute where he is the Darlene Shiley Professor of Chemistry, and Chairman of the Department of Chemistry. In 1996, he was appointed Aline W. and L.S. Skaggs Professor of Chemical Biology in The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, The Scripps Research Institute. Since 2005, he has been directing Chemical Synthesis Laboratory @ ICES-A*STAR, Singapore. It has been announced that Nicolaou will move to Rice University (Houston) in 2013, where his lab is under construction.

The Nicolaou group is active in the field of organic chemistry with research interests natural product synthesis and total synthesis. He is responsible for the synthesis of many complex molecules found in nature such as Taxol in the Taxol total synthesis and vancomycin.

Total syntheses accomplished

  • Endiandric acids A-D (1982)
  • Amphoteronolide B and Amphotericin B (1987)
  • Calicheamicin γ1 (1992)
  • Sirolimus (1993)
  • Taxol (1994)
  • Zaragozic acid A (1994)
  • Brevetoxin B (1995)
  • Vancomycin (1998)