Saul Winstein died suddenly at age 57, the height of his career. His life, though short, spanned a major period of growth for organic chemistry – a field he helped to shape for generations to come.
At UCLA, Winstein, examined formation of cations, positively charged ions. His team focused specifically on the 2-norbornyl cation, formed from derivatives of norbornane, a hydrocarbon.
In his namesake reaction, Winstein demonstrated how a “non-classical” cation – a pair of delocalized electrons between three carbon atoms – was needed to ensure the 2-norbornyl’s stability.
Research aside, Winstein mentored 72 Ph.D. students and was known for his “desire to understand everything thoroughly.”
As a result, today’s textbooks contain phrases he invented, including “solvent participation,” “internal return,” “anchimeric assistance,” “intimate ion pair,” and “homoaromaticity.”
“I think this was a fortunate man,” author Irving Stone said at his funeral, “a man who realized his dream with nothing to go on but brains, character, integrity and self-discipline.”