100th Birthday: Donald J. Cram

  • ChemPubSoc Europe Logo
  • DOI: 10.1002/chemv.201900034
  • Author: Catharina Goedecke
  • Published Date: 22 April 2019
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
thumbnail image: 100th Birthday: Donald J. Cram

Donald James Cram was born on April 22, 1919, in Chester, VT, USA. He was a pioneer of host–guest chemistry and received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987 together with Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen "for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity".


Donald Cram's father died when Donald was very young. Donald Cram grew up on both government assistance and on money he made by working himself while still underage. Cram studied chemistry at Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, as a scholarship recipient and at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, USA, where he received his Master's degree in organic chemistry in 1942. Cram received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, in 1947. He then served as a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA, working with John D. Roberts. Cram became Assistant Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, in 1947, and was promoted to Full Professor in 1955. He remained there until his retirement.


In 1952, Donald J. Cram formulated a rule known as "Cram's rule of asymmetric induction". It predicts the stereochemistry of the products of certain nucleophilic additions at carbonyl compounds. Cram is, however, best known for his contributions to host–guest or supramolecular chemistry, which were honored with the Nobel Prize.

In 1967, Charles J. Pedersen had developed crown ethers, cyclic compounds with multiple ether groups that can bind cations. Cram extended this approach and developed a range of three-dimensional cages, called carcerands or hemicarcerands, that can capture other molecules using non-covalent interactions (example with a captured nitrobenzene pictured). Donald J. Cram retired in 1987 and died on June 17, 2001, in Palm Desert, CA, USA.


Donald J. Cram is the answer to Guess the Chemist (88).


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