Oral history interview with Koji Nakanishi

Oral history interview with Koji Nakanishi

  • 1985-Feb-15

This interview covers the life of Koji Nakanishi from his early education in Egypt to his current work as Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University and Director of the Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research in Japan. He discusses his education in wartime Japan, his fellowship years at Harvard University working with Louis Fieser, a succession of positions at various Japanese universities, and his eventual decision to go to Columbia University. Nakanishi's research on the structure of natural products and, more recently, their mode of action, and the development and use of infrared spectroscopy, NMR, and circular dichroism is discussed in some detail. The interview concludes with a brief discussion of his avocation, magic, and some general comments on the future of organic chemistry.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 70 pages
  • 03:37:00
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewer

Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.

Physical location

Oral history number 0059

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 11, 1925
  • Hong Kong, China
  • March 28, 2019
  • New York, New York, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1947 Nagoya Daigaku BSc Chemistry
1954 Nagoya Daigaku PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

Harvard University

  • 1950 to 1952 Garioa Fellow

Nagoya Daigaku

  • 1955 to 1958 Assistant Professor

Tōkyō Kyōiku Daigaku

  • 1958 to 1963 Professor

Tōhoku Daigaku

  • 1963 to 1969 Professor

International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

  • 1968 to 1977 Director of Research

Columbia University

  • 1969 to 1980 Professor
  • 1980 to 1986 Centennial Professor
  • 1987 to 1988 Chairman, Chemistry Department

Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research

  • 1979 to 1986 Director


Year(s) Award
1954 Award in Pure Chemistry, Chemical Society of Japan
1968 Asahi Cultural Award
1978 Ernest Guenther Award, American Chemical Society
1979 Chemical Society of Japan Award
1979 E. E. Smissman Medal, University of Kansas
1979 Centenary Medal, British Chemical Society
1980 H. C. Urey Award, Phi Lambda Upsilon, Columbia University
1981 Remsen Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
1985 First Research Award, American Society of Pharmacognosy
1986 Alcon Award in Opthamology
1986 Paul Karrer Gold Medal, University of Zürich
1987 Honorary D. Sc. , Williams College

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PDF — 4.6 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads