Room 319 of Conant Building at Harvard University is a good place to learn much in a short time about Elias J. Corey, this year’s recipient of the Priestley Medal. The outer office is lined with shelves filled with manila folders and books, chemical and medical. In one compartment, medals are arrayed, like in a shrine. On one wall are anchored strings from which molecular structure models hang, like clothes drying on a line. Three empty bottles of champagne stand in a row on a low table by the window, reminders of celebrations past. In the inner space are more shelves built like library stacks. More molecular structure models cascade from the ceiling to the floor like decorative garlands. One shelf wall is covered with greeting cards featuring Mount Fuji.
Photographs are everywhere. There are pictures of, among others, Claire, Corey's wife; the Corey grandchildren, Sara and Katherine; colleagues from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where Corey began his independent research career in 1951; the chemistry faculty at Harvard when Corey joined in 1959, including Paul D. Bartlett, Mary and Louis F. Fieser, Frank H. Westheimer, and Robert B. Woodward; and scenes from the Nobel Prize ceremonies.
The Priestley Medal is the American Chemical Society's highest honor. It is awarded for distinguished service to chemistry. Corey, Harvard's Sheldon Emery Professor of Chemistry, has performed distinguished service in three major ways: as a scientist, as a teacher, and as an adviser to the pharmaceutical industry.