William Standish Knowles

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William Standish Knowles, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2001

Birthplace: Taunton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Chesterfield, St. Louis County, Missouri, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of George Bourne Knowles and Alice Pierce Knowles (Tiffany)
Husband of Nancy Knowles
Father of <private> Knowels; <private> Knowels; <private> Knowels and <private> McIntire (Knowles)

Occupation: Organic Chemist, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2001
Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About William Standish Knowles

William Standish Knowles (June 1, 1917 – June 13, 2012) was an American chemist. He was born in Taunton, Massachusetts. Knowles was one of the recipients of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shared half the prize with Ryōji Noyori for their work in asymmetric synthesis, specifically for his work in hydrogenation reactions. The other half was awarded to K. Barry Sharpless for his work in oxidation reactions.


Knowles attended Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He led his class academically and upon graduation was admitted to Harvard University after passing the College Board exams. Feeling that he was too young to go to college, Knowles spent a year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. At the end of the year, he captured his first award in chemistry, the school's $50 Boylston Prize.

After his year in preparatory school, Knowles attended Harvard, where he majored in chemistry, focusing on organic chemistry. He received his undergraduate degree in 1939, and attended Columbia University for graduate school.

Awards and honors

  • 1974, IR 100 Awards for Asymmetric Hydrogenation
  • 1978, St. Louis ACS Section Award
  • 1981, Monsanto Thomas and Hochwalt Award
  • 1982, ACS Award for Creative Invention
  • 1996, The Organic Reactions Catalysis Society - Paul N. Rylander Award
  • 2008, Peter H. Raven Lifetime Achievement Award, from the Academy of Science, St. Louis.

Nobel Prize

He shared half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 with Ryōji Noyori. The other half of the prize was awarded to K. Barry Sharpless for the development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis, which is a technology relevant to the preparation of many pharmaceuticals. Knowles led a team of researchers that developed chiral phosphine ligands that proved effective in the enantioselective synthesis of L-DOPA. Knowles conducted this prize-winning research at Monsanto Company.

Personal life

Following his retirement in 1968, Knowles resided in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. In retirement he restored native prairie grasses on a 100-acre farm that his wife had inherited. He was married to his wife, Nancy, for 66 years and had four children, Elizabeth, Peter, Sarah and Leslie McIntire. He also had four grandchildren. Knowles died in Chesterfield on June 13, 2012 at age 95. He and his wife had previously stated that their farm would be donated to be converted into a city park after their deaths.

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William Standish Knowles's Timeline

June 1, 1917
Taunton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
June 13, 2012
Age 95
Chesterfield, St. Louis County, Missouri, United States