2013 Cava Lecture: Fraser Stoddart


Structure and Mechanism in Radical Mechanostereochemistry
12:45 PM, Thursday, February 14th, 2013
1093 Shelby Hall
(Technical Talk)

Mingling Art and Science
2:00 PM, Friday, February 15th, 2013
1093 Shelby Hall
(General Interest Talk)


The academic career of Fraser Stoddart, who was born in the capital of Scotland on Victoria Day (24 May) in 1942, can be traced through thick and thin from the Athens of the North to the Windy City beside Lake Michigan, with interludes on the edge of the Canadian Shield beside Lake Ontario, in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, on the Plains of Cheshire beside the Wirral, in the Midlands in the Heartland of Albion, and in the City of Angels alongside the Peaceful Sea.  He was raised, an only child, on a mixed-arable farm a dozen miles south of Edinburgh. His formal education began with his attending the local village school in Carrington, Midlothian when he was four. A rigorous introduction to the three Rs – namely, reading, writing and arithmetic – made it relatively easy for him to make the transition to Melville College, a high school in the middle of Edinburgh.  He went to Edinburgh University in 1960 and graduated with a BSc degree in 1964.  During his time as a postgraduate student in the Department of Chemistry he cut his teeth in research investigating the nature of plant gums of the Acacia genus within the School of Carbohydrate Chemistry under Professor Sir Edmund Hirst.

In March 1967, Stoddart took his leave of the Chemistry Department at Edinburgh with a PhD degree to spend the next three years as a National Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at Queen’s University with Professor J. K. N. Jones.  No sooner had he arrived in Kingston, Ontario, than a communication appeared in J. Am. Chem. Soc. by Charles Pedersen, describing the synthesis of dibenzo[18]crown-6 in excellent yield as a consequence of the templating action of potassium ions.  This seminal event marked the beginning of Fraser’s fascination with chemistry beyond the molecule, which, combined with his interest in templation, has led to the template-directed synthesis, based on molecular recognition and self-assembly processes, of a wide range of mechanically interlocked molecules (e.g., catenanes and rotaxanes), bistable variants of which have found their way into molecular electronic devices and drug delivery systems.

Fraser met Norma Scholan (BSc chemist/PhD biochemist) in 1966, while he was a postgraduate student and they started their married lives in Canada in 1968.  In 1970, they returned to the United Kingdom, so that Fraser could take up an Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Fellowship at Sheffield University, where he worked briefly with Professor W. D. Ollis, before being appointed as a Lecturer in Chemistry. After spending a three-year sabbatical (1978–1981) at the ICI Corporate Laboratory in Runcorn, he returned to Sheffield, where he was promoted to a Readership in Chemistry. It was during his time at ICI that Stoddart developed his long-standing interest in bipyridinium units (constituents of the ICI herbicides Diquat and Paraquat) as redox-addressable building blocks for incorporation into bistable catenanes and rotaxanes.  In 2013, Fraser expects to publish his 1000th paper: he has trained >350 graduate and postdoctoral students of which >80 have subsequently embarked on successful independent academic careers.

In 1990, he took up the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Birmingham University, where he was Head of the School of Chemistry (1993–97) before moving to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as the Saul Winstein Professor of Chemistry in 1997. In 2002, Fraser became the Director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) and assumed the Fred Kavli Chair of NanoSystems Sciences. He joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 2008 as a Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for the Chemistry of Integrated Systems (CCIS).

Stoddart was appointed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Knight Bachelor in her 2007 New Year’s Honours List, for services to chemistry and molecular nanotechnology. In this same year, he won the King Faisal International Prize in Science.  In 2010, he was the recipient of a Royal Medal, granted by Her Majesty, and presented by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Fraser’s and Norma’s daughters, Fiona (b. 1973) and Alison (b.1976) are both PhD chemists!  In 2004, Norma succumbed to a 12-year battle with breast cancer. Fiona lives with her Australian husband and their two children in Belmont, MA, while Alison, who is a Senior Editor with Nature Materials, lives in Waterbeach, UK with her husband and their 3 sons.  To learn more about the life and works of Fraser Stoddart, read about “Big and Little Meccano” inTetrahedron 200864, 8231–8263.