About the Cava Lecture Series

The Cava Lectureship, established in memory of Professor Michael P. Cava, recognizes preeminent scientists, primarily in the field of organic chemistry. Cava Lecturers typically present both a technical talk and a general audience talk during their time on campus.

Supporting the Cava Lectureship

For more information about the Cava Lecture Series, please contact Dr. Robert Metzger.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Cava Lectureship, please visit the University’s online giving form. Select “Other” when asked where you would like your gift directed, then enter “Cava Lectureship Fund” into the first text box for gift designation. We appreciate your support.

Past Cava Lecturers

2013: Sir Fraser Stoddart, Northwestern University

Structure and Mechanism in Radical Mechanostereochemistry
Mingling Art and Science

2011: Prof. KC Nicolaou, Scripps Research Institute, CA, University of California, San Diego

Molecules That Changed the World
Maitotoxin:  An Inspiration for Synthesis

2009: Prof. Jerrold Meinwald, Cornell University

When the Chemistry is Right: Violence, Sex, and Drugs in the World of Insects
Exploring the Chemistry of Biotic Interactions
Musical Performance

2009: Prof. Richard R. Schrock, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How Basic Research in Chemistry Led to a Nobel Prize
Thousands of Catalysts for Olefin Metathesis: Variability, Longevity, and Asymmetry at the Metal

Biography of Dr. Cava

Michael Patrick Cava, Ramsay Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, was born on 13 February 1926 in Brooklyn, NY of second-generation Italian parents. As a child, he fell in love with chemistry, and with Jerrold Meinwald (later a Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University) several chemical reactions were tried at home. As a boy, Michael contracted poliomyelitis, and made a partial recovery: he walked until his late seventies slowly but surely, with an ambling gait.

Michael earned a B.S. degree in chemistry at Harvard in 1943. At the University of Michigan, he worked for Prof. Werner E. Bachmann, who died prematurely, so the visiting André S. Dreiding helped Michael Cava earn his Ph.D. degree in 1951. From 1951 to 1953 Michael was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard with the great Professor Robert B. Woodward: they co-authored a publication describing the total synthesis of strychnine.
Michael is fluent in French and German, and has a prodigious memory of the salient results of Beilstein’s reviews of synthetic organic chemistry. In 1951 he married Esther Laden of Duluth, Minnesota; their son, John M., was born in 1953, and is now architect in Portland, Oregon. Esther Cava earned a doctorate in psychology and a law degree; she became a respected expert on adolescent psychology.

Michael started his academic career at Ohio State University (1953-1965), where he rose through the ranks of Assistant, Associate, then full Professor. He moved to Wayne State University (1965-1969), to the University of Pennsylvania (1969-1985) and finally to the University of Alabama (Robert Ramsey Professor of Chemistry, 1985-2004, Emeritus Professor 2004-present). He was a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Illinois (1957), and California at Santa Barbara (1968). He was a Sloan Fellow (1958-1962), spent research leaves in Switzerland (1959), Manaus, Brazil (1965), and in France (1979). He was Raman Visiting Professor at the University of Madras, India (1973), and a Guggenheim Fellow (1984-1985) at the Universities of Paris and California at Santa Barbara.

Michael Cava’s range of synthetic organic chemistry was encyclopedic, from natural products to organic metals and conducting polymers, from rare marine alkaloids to novel natural products he extracted from plant samples collected in many trips to Central and South America. One of his early interests was in preparing stable cyclobutadiene derivatives.

His senior research associate for four decades, Dr. M. V. Lakshmikantham of Madras, India kindled in Michael a deep interest in the chemistry of organo-S, Se, and Te compounds. One compound, bis-ethylenedithio-tetrathiafulvalene (ET), gave a semiconducting complex with tetracyano-quinodimethan; other scientists later discovered thirty-odd superconducting salts of ET with various anions. Michael was interested in applications of conducting polymers, nonlinear optics, and finally unimolecular rectifiers (with R. M. Metzger).
Michael published 300 papers before coming to Tuscaloosa, and a lifetime total of 455 papers, plus a popular organic chemistry textbook (Allinger, Cava, De Jongh, Johnson, Lebel, and Stevens). Michael supervised 80-odd Ph.D. dissertations; his students have later served on the faculties of the Universities of Rochester and Chicago, to name but two. Michael mentored more than 100 post-doctoral research associates from many countries.

Michael invited to Tuscaloosa many eminent organic chemists, who gladly came to see him. In April 2001 Prof. Jin Cha (now at Wayne State) organized a 75th Birthday symposium to honor Michael: the world of organic chemistry assembled in Tuscaloosa. Michael made many friends, but probably not a single enemy.

His legacy on synthetic organic chemistry is subtle but very deep. The dynamic duo of Michael and Lakshmi worked as long as possible, until ill health stopped their work in 2004. Esther Cava died of lung cancer in 1995. In Dec 1998 Michael married Armelle Guinard Laden of St. Germain-en-Laye near Paris (who had been married to Esther’s late brother).  For several years Armelle continued the tradition of Esther, and invited many people to Mike’s house. A grand-daughter, Sophie Rose, was born in 2006 to John M. Cava and Kayla. Prof. Cava passed away in September 2010.

The Cava Lectureship was set up by Michael and John Cava with  research funds that the ever-careful Michael had not spent, and the receipts of a sale of unused chemicals to the Aldrich Chemical Company.