Professor Koji Nakanishi was born in Hong Kong in 1925. He received his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Japan, pursued post-graduate studies at Harvard University (U.S.A.) and obtained Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Nagoya. He taught in three of the leading universities in Japan, namely, Nagoya, Kyaiku and Tahoka universities. In 1969, he joined the Columbia University’s (CU) Department of Chemistry, where he held the title of Centennial Professor of Chemistry since 1980. He was also Chairman of the Chemistry Department at CU, a founding member and Director of Research at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya and the first Director of the Suntry Institute for Bioorganic Research in Osaka, Japan. He palyed a significant role in establishing the Brazilian government’s Institute of Medicinal and Ecological Chemistry, a center of excellence in the Amazons with headquarters in Sao Paolo. He also initiated a chemistry unit within Biosphere 2, Arizona, operated by CU. He is currently Centennial Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Columbia.
Professor Nakanishi is the world’s leader in the isolation and structure determination of biologically active natural products. He designed versatile techniques to study these products beyond the limits imposed by the miniscule quantity of material; this enabled him to determine the structure of more than 350 compounds and to elucidate the structural basis for the activity of some carcinogens, neurotoxins, anti-cancer agents and other bioactive compounds that affect human, animal and plant life. His long-term studies on the interaction of light with rhodopsin, the pigment molecule responsible for vision, are close to solving the mystery of macular degeneration, a condition that can cause blindness and for which no treatment is presently known.
Professor Nakanishi published more than 750 papers and authored, co-authored or edited 9 books on spectroscopy and natural products, including the 8-volume text: Comprehensive Natural Products Chemistry (jointly with D.H.R. Barton) and his 1991 autobiography: A Wandering Natural Products Chemist, published by the American Chemical Society. The 425 former students of
Nakanishi’s and members of his research group (95 in Japan and 330 at CU) are now occupying leading positions aound the world.
Professor Nakanishi is the most decorated chemist in the world. In addition to King Faisal International Prize for Science, he received numerous prestigious awards and honors by over a dozen different nations and by numerous scientific organizations. The Emperor of Japan awarded him the title of “Person of Cultural Merit,” one of the highest awards in Japan. A major prize was named for him; the Nakanishi Prize of the American Chemical Society and the Chemical Society of Japan. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from Williams College, Georgetown University and the University of Uppsala.In 1999, a group of his former students and post-doctoral fellows published The Biology – Chemistry Interface: A Tribute to Koji Nakanishi. Apart ftom bring an exceptionally talented chemist, Nakanishi is also a talented magician.
Professor Nakanishi, has been awarded the prize, for his research in biologically active natural products has exceptional scientific and economic value. He has established the properties and elucidated the structures of many chemical compounds including antibiotics, carcinogenic materials, and anticancer products. Professor Nakanishi’s recent research concentrates on the interaction of light with the molecules responsible for vision. These studies are likely to accelerate the development of a treatment for macular degeneration which afflicts many elderly people and leads to the loss of sight.