Sharpless, Karl Barry

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Karl Barry Sharpless, 1941–, American chemist, b. Philadelphia, Pa., Ph.D. Stanford, 1968. Sharpless was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1970–77 and 1980–90) and at Stanford (1977–80). He has been on the faculty of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif., since 1990. Sharpless received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with William Knowles and Ryoji Noyori for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions. Chiral catalysts push chemical reactions toward just one of two possible forms of chiral, or mirror-image, molecules (see Stereoisomers under isomer). Their work had important implications for the production of pharmaceuticals, as undesirable side effects can result from the "wrong" chiral form of a drug. This occurred in the 1960s with the antinausea drug thalidomide, which caused birth defects when it was given to some pregnant women.