1960s Chemistry & Materials Achievement Timeline

. . . includes medicinal chemistry


  • Max Perutz (1914-2002) determines the atom-by-atom structure of the iron-containing protein hemoglobin (see biology), which serves as a transport for oxygen, carbon dioxide and various other gasses throughout the circulatory system.  
  • Robert Burns Woodward (1917-1979) synthesizes the structure of chlorophyll A at Harvard; discussed by Burns at left; follows his earlier synthesis of the cholesterol, cortisone, lysergic acid (LSD), strychnine, and reserpine molecules.
  • John C. Kendrew (1917-1997) locates all the atoms in the organic molecule myoglobin concerned with the oxygen and iron binding protein in muscles.
  • Manfred Eigen determines the steps involved in very fast chemical reactions (nanoseconds) having to do with acid-base catalysis.
  • DuPont chemist, Charles J. Pederson, discovers the first so-called crown ether.
  • Race to synthesize Vitamin B12 begins in Zurich (ETH); at Harvard in 1961.


  • Leonard Ornstein first describes disc electrophoresis.
  • Element 103, “Lawrencium” isolated (Berkeley)
  • The Eli Lilly Company synthesizes two drugs from plant alkaloids in Madagascar Periwinkle (Vinca rosa): vincristine and vinblastine, with major therapy implications for Hodgkins disease and leukemia.
  • Rene Lacoste creates the first tubular steel tennis racket. With modifications, becomes the T2000 manufactured by the Wilson Sporting Goods Company in 1969.


  • Neil Bartlett creates first noble gas compounds, previously thought uncombineable with other atoms to form molecules.
  • The Naval Ordinance Laboratory (NOL) in Maryland develops a new type of “shape memory alloy” (SMA) nickel and titanium that, when cooled, from a heated state, remembers the shape it possessed if heated again!


  • William N. Lipscomb explains boranes (compounds of boron & hydrogen) and similar molecules by a model in which three atoms can share one electron pair instead of the usual two.


  • Element 104 isolated, “Rutherfordium” (Berkeley and Soviet Union)


  • Kevlar high-strength para-aramid synthetic fiber is developed by DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek and her team.  Starts the sub-field of polymer chemistry.
  • Peter Hirsch, Archibald Howie, Robin Nicholson, D.W. Pashley and Michael Whalen publish Electron Microscopy of Thin Crystals.
  • Wang Yinglai and colleagues perform the first successful synthesis of insulin.
  • Robert Burns Woodward and Roald Hoffman develop rules for predicting/understanding chemical reaction mechanisms in organic chemistry. They realized that chemical transformations could be predicted from subtle symmetries and asymmetries in the electron “orbitals” of complex molecules. This set of predictors and analytical tools are known as the Woodman-Hoffman Rules. 
  • Computer scientist, Edward Feigenbaum, and molecular biologist, Joshua Lederberg create the DENDRAL (dendritic algorithms) initiative at Stanford University to help chemists identify unknown organic molecules. Pioneers artificial intelligence in the United States and spawns computer software expert system.
  • Walter Koltun patents a better version of Robert Corey and Linus Pauling’s popular 1952 CPK stick-and-ball coloring model for molecules.
  • Element 102 isolated, “Nobelium” (Soviet Union)



  • John Polanyi develops the method of infrared chemiluminescence to study chemical reactions and bonds.



  • Dorothy Hodgkin and colleagues at Oxford determine the structure of insulin.
  • Elias James Corey reports the total synthesis of two naturally occurring E2 and F2 prostaglandins.


  • Monsanto Company organic chemist John E. Franz discovers glycoside; chemical becomes the active ingredient in the broad-spectrum herbicide, Roundup, marketed in 1974.
  • Element 105 isolated, “Dubnium” (Berkeley and Soviet Union)



  • Culminating an 11-year effort, the method of synthesizing the most complex of all known vitamins – Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin – is reported by the research groups of Robert B. Woodward in Cambridge, MA; and Albert Eschenmoser (b. 1925) in Zurich.


  • Liquid argon calorimetry is developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, Long Island.
  • Using rare earth exides, platinum, and rhodium, chemist Carl Keith (1920-2008), chemical engineer John Mooney (1930-2020), and a team at the Engelhard Corporation create the first production catalytic converters to reduce pollutants emitted from cars, then from other devices.


  • Element 106 isolated, “Seaborgium” (Berkeley) Aaron Klug and coworkers determine the crystal structure of transfer RNA.


  • Scottish researchers find the first pain-relieving neurotransmitter, encephalin, which mimics morphine in the brain. 


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