Photo of Elias J. Corey

Elias J. Corey

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his strikingly original contributions to organic synthesis, which have brought the science of organic chemistry to a new level of power and precision.

Elias James Corey was fated for chemistry. From a young age he was studious and consistently ahead of his peers in academics. He was encouraged to test for a scholarship at a preparatory school, and while he did not get the scholarship, he would find out much later that the school would have set him on a course towards becoming a priest. As an undergraduate, Corey would start his education in engineering only to be lured into chemistry after taking a class that deeply intrigued him.

From the very beginning, Corey’s love was organic chemistry. It both challenged him and provided an outlet for his desire to make a body of work that would be useful to humanity. His most famous work would center on retrosynthetic analysis, but his contributions have also elevated organic synthesis and led to advancements in medicine.

Corey’s influence extends beyond his research. With students and colleagues, he always emphasized the importance of integrity in work, maintaining good working relationships with others, and producing the best and most thorough research possible. His methodical approach to science gained him admiration from students and his boundary pushing style cemented his legacy in chemistry.

By Melissa Ayala