William H. Pirkle: Stereochemistry pioneer.

Professor William H. Pirkle (1934-2018) made a profound impact on modern chemistry by inventing and popularizing widely used techniques for the analysis and purification of enantiomers, contributions that paved the way for the subsequent advances in the discovery, development, and manufacture of enantiopure pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and specialtychemicals. Pirkle’s pioneering 1966 demonstration of the use of chiral solvating agents for the nuclear magnetic resonance determination of enantiopurity led to a lifelong interest in understanding the supramolecular interactions responsible for enantiodifferentiation.

Ongoing research into the chromatographic resolution of stereoisomers throughout the 1970s led in 1981 to the very first commercialization of a chiral stationary phase for the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) separation of enantiomers. The availability of this and subsequent “Pirkle columns” had a deep and lasting impact, becoming widely embraced by the chemical sciences research community worldwide and spearheading the wholesale changeover to HPLC as the preferred technique for measuring enantiopurity. Doc Pirkle was a highly creative, independent, and fun-loving collaborator whose circle of friends extends around the globe. His research group at the University of Illinois, often referred to as The Pirkle Zoo, became a refuge for an interesting assembly of characters who flourished under his mentorship and guidance.

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