Donald J. Cram

Last updated
Donald James Cram
BornApril 22, 1919
DiedJune 17, 2001 (aged 82)
Palm Desert, California [1]
Nationality American
Alma mater Rollins College
University of Nebraska
Harvard University
Known for Cram's rule
Host–guest chemistry
phenonium ions
Awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1987)
Glenn T. Seaborg Medal (1989)
National Medal of Science (1993)
Guggenheim fellowship (1955)
Scientific career
Fields chemistry
Institutions UCLA, Merck & Co, MIT
Doctoral advisor Louis Fieser

Donald James Cram (April 22, 1919 June 17, 2001) was an American chemist who shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen "for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity." They were the founders of the field of host–guest chemistry.

Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with elements and compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.

Nobel Prize set of annual international awards, primarily 5 established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in several categories by Swedish and Norwegian institutions in recognition of academic, cultural, or scientific advances.

Jean-Marie Lehn French chemist

Jean-Marie Lehn is a French chemist. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Donald Cram and Charles Pedersen in 1987 for his synthesis of cryptands. Lehn was an early innovator in the field of supramolecular chemistry, i.e., the chemistry of host–guest molecular assemblies created by intermolecular interactions, and continues to innovate in this field. As of January 2006, his group has published 790 peer-reviewed articles in chemistry literature.


Early life

Cram was born [2] and raised in Chester, Vermont, to a Scottish immigrant father, and a German immigrant mother. His father died before Cram turned four, leaving him the only male in a family of five. He grew up on Aid to Dependent Children, and learned to work at an early age, doing jobs such as picking fruit, tossing newspapers, and painting houses, while bartering for piano lessons. By the time he turned eighteen, he had worked at least eighteen different jobs. [3]

Chester, Vermont Town in Vermont, United States

Chester is a town in Windsor County, Vermont, United States. The population was 3,154 at the 2010 census.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Germans citizens or native-born people of Germany; or people of descent to the ethnic and ethnolinguistic group associated with the German language

Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe, who share a common German ancestry, culture and history. German is the shared mother tongue of a substantial majority of ethnic Germans.

Cram attended the Winwood High School in Long Island, N.Y. [4] From 1938 to 1941, he attended Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida on a national honorary scholarship, where he worked as an assistant in the chemistry department, and was active in theater, chapel choir, Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Society, and Zeta Alpha Epsilon. It was at Rollins that he became known for building his own chemistry equipment. In 1941, he graduated from Rollins College with a B.S. in Chemistry. [3]

Rollins College US university

Rollins College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college, founded in 1885 and located in Winter Park, Florida along the shores of Lake Virginia. Rollins is a member of the SACS, NASM, ACS, FDE, AAM, AACSB International, Council for Accreditation of Counseling, and Related Educational Programs. Rollins has about 30 undergraduate majors and several graduate programs. In 2017 it was ranked #2 Regional Universities, South by U.S. News & World Report. Rollins College has ranked among the most beautiful U.S. college campuses by The Princeton Review for the past decade, ranking #1 in 2015 and #10 most recently in 2017.

Lambda Chi Alpha North American collegiate fraternity

Lambda Chi Alpha (ΛΧΑ), commonly known as Lambda Chi, is a college Fraternity in North America, which was founded in 1909. It is one of the largest social fraternities in North America, with more than 280,000 lifetime members and active chapters and colonies at 195 universities. The youngest of the fifteen largest social fraternities, Lambda Chi Alpha has initiated the third highest number of men ever, based on NIC statistics. Lambda Chi's International Headquarters is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Its members are referred to as "Lambda Chis", "LCAs", "Lambdas", and "Choppers". It was a member of the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) until October 2015.

In 1942, he graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a M.S. in organic chemistry, [2] with Norman O. Cromwell serving as his thesis adviser. His subject was "Amino ketones, mechanism studies of the reactions of heterocyclic secondary amines with -bromo-, -unsaturated ketones." [5]

University of Nebraska–Lincoln public university in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln, often referred to as Nebraska, UNL or NU, is a public research university in the city of Lincoln, in the state of Nebraska in the Midwestern United States. It is the state's oldest university, and the largest in the University of Nebraska system.

In 1947, Cram graduated from Harvard University with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, [2] with Louis Fieser, serving as the adviser on his dissertation on "Syntheses and reactions of 2-(ketoalkyl)-3-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinones" [6]

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 post graduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

Organic chemistry subdiscipline within chemistry involving the scientific study of carbon-based compounds, hydrocarbons, and their derivatives

Organic chemistry is the chemistry subdiscipline for the scientific study of structure, properties, and reactions of organic compounds and organic materials. Study of structure determines their chemical composition and formula. Study of properties includes physical and chemical properties, and evaluation of chemical reactivity to understand their behavior. The study of organic reactions includes the chemical synthesis of natural products, drugs, and polymers, and study of individual organic molecules in the laboratory and via theoretical study.

Louis Fieser American organic chemist

Louis Frederick Fieser was an American organic chemist, professor, and in 1968, professor emeritus at Harvard University. He is renowned as the inventor of military effective napalm whilst he worked at Harvard in 1943. His award-winning research included work on blood-clotting agents including the first synthesis of vitamin K, synthesis and screening of quinones as antimalarial drugs, work with steroids leading to the synthesis of cortisone, and study of the nature of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.


From 1942-1945, Cram worked in chemical research at Merck & Co laboratories, doing penicillin research with mentor Max Tishler. [3] Postdoctoral work was as an American Chemical Society postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with John D. Roberts. Cram was the originator of Cram's rule, which provides a model for predicting the outcome of nucleophilic attack of carbonyl compounds. [7] He published over 350 research papers and eight books on organic chemistry, and taught graduate and post-doctoral students from 21 different countries. [3]

Max Tishler American chemist

Max Tishler (October 30, 1906 – March 18, 1989) was president of Merck Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories where he led the research teams that synthesized ascorbic acid, riboflavin, cortisone, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, nicotinamide, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan. He also developed the fermentation processes for actinomycin, vitamin B12, streptomycin, and penicillin. Tishler invented sulfaquinoxaline for the treatment for coccidiosis.

American Chemical Society American scientific society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has nearly 157,000 members at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields. It is the world's largest scientific society by membership. The ACS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. Its headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., and it has a large concentration of staff in Columbus, Ohio.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. The institute is a land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant university with campus extends more than a mile along side the Charles river. The institute is traditionally known for its research and education in the physical sciences, engineering and architecture, but more recently in biology, economics, linguistics, management, and social science and art as well. MIT is often ranked among the world's top five universities.


Crystal structure of a nitrobenzene bound within a hemicarcerand reported by Cram and coworkers Nitrobenzene bound within hemicarcerand from Chemical Communications (1997).jpg
Crystal structure of a nitrobenzene bound within a hemicarcerand reported by Cram and coworkers

Cram expanded upon Charles Pedersen's ground-breaking synthesis of crown ethers, two-dimensional organic compounds that are able to recognize and selectively combine with the ions of certain metal elements. He synthesized molecules that took this chemistry into three dimensions, creating an array of differently shaped molecules that could interact selectively with other chemicals because of their complementary three-dimensional structures. Cram's work represented a large step toward the synthesis of functional laboratory-made mimics of enzymes and other natural molecules whose special chemical behavior is due to their characteristic structure. He also did work in stereochemistry and Cram's rule of asymmetric induction is named after him.


Cram was named an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1947, and a professor in 1955. He served there until his retirement in 1987. He was a popular teacher, having instructed some 8,000 undergraduates in his career and guided the academic output of 200 graduate students. He entertained his classes by strumming his guitar and singing folk songs. [2] He showed a self-deprecating style, saying at one time:

An investigator starts research in a new field with faith, a foggy idea, and a few wild experiments. Eventually the interplay of negative and positive results guides the work. By the time the research is completed, he or she knows how it should have been started and conducted.


Technical Reports:


  1. Cram, Donald J.; Jane M. Cram (1994). Container Molecules and their Guests. Great Britain: Royal Society of Chemistry. pp. 223 pp. ISBN   978-0-85404-507-5.
  2. Cram, Donald J. (1990). From Design to Discovery. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. pp. 146pp.
  3. Cram, Jane M.; Donald J. Cram (1978). The Essence of Organic Chemistry. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. pp. 456pp.
  4. Hendrickson, James B.; Donald J. Cram; George S. Hammond (1970). Organic Chemistry. Reading, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill. pp. 1279pp. 3rd ed.
  5. Richards, John; Don Cram; George S. Hammond (1967). Elements of organic chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 444pp.
  6. Cram, Donald J. (1965). Fundamentals of Carbanion Chemistry. New York: Academic Press. pp. 289pp.
  7. Cram, Donald J.; George S. Hammond (1964). Organic Chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 846pp. 2nd ed.
  8. Cram, Donald J.; George S. Hammond (1959). Organic Chemistry. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 712pp. 1st ed.

Awards and honors

Personal life

Cram once admitted that his career wasn't without sacrifice. His first wife was Rollins classmate, Jean Turner, who also graduated in 1941, and went on to receive a master's degree in social work from Columbia University. His second wife, Jane, is a former chemistry professor at Mt. Holyoke College. Cram chose not to have any children, "because I would either be a bad father or a bad scientist." [3]

Cram died of cancer in 2001, at the age of 82. [2]

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  1. 1 2 Donald J. Cram. "Autobiography". The Nobel Foundation.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Donald Cram, Nobel Laureate and UCLA Chemist, Dies at 82" (Press release). University of California. 2001-06-19. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Donald J. Cram, Ph.D.: A 1941 Rollins College Chemistry Alumnus and winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2010-09-25.
  4. James, Laylin K. (1994). Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1901-1992. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society and Chemical Heritage Foundation. pp. 146pp. ISBN   978-0-8412-2459-9.
  5. University of Nebraska Research Library entry
  6. Harvard Library Hollis search
  7. Studies in Stereochemistry. X. The Rule of "Steric Control of Asymmetric Induction" in the Syntheses of Acyclic Systems Donald J. Cram, Fathy Ahmed Abd Elhafez J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 1952; 74(23); 5828-5835. Abstract
  8. Juyoung Yoon; Carolyn B. Knobler; Emily F. Maverick; Donald J. Cram (1997). "Dissymmetric new hemicarcerands containing four bridges of different lengths". Chem. Commun. (14): 1303–1304. doi:10.1039/a701187c.
  9. National Science Foundation - The President's National Medal of Science