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Father of Anti-Malaria Drug Dies

By Radhika Jain, Crimson Staff Writer

William von Eggers Doering ’38, a world-renowned organic chemist and professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, died of heart failure on Jan. 3. He was 93.

His colleagues remember him as a brilliant scientist who was committed to his field until the end of his life.

“William Doering was at the very highest level among the greatest chemists of the twentieth century,” said Elias J. Corey, professor emeritus of organic chemistry at Harvard and Doering’s colleague of 50 years.

“He was off-scale, in terms of intelligence,” Corey said. But he also remembered him as “very courteous, very circumspect, [and] very thoughtful.”

Doering is perhaps best known for his postdoctoral research at Harvard, where he collaborated with chemist Robert B. Woodward to synthesize quinine, one of the first anti-malarial drugs. Released in 1944, the new drug would immediately save lives through World War II.

Doering also had a lasting impact on the collective understanding of how organic chemical reactions take place. In 1951, he helped confirm quantum mechanical predictions made by Erich Hückel, a German physical chemist.

As Chairman of the Board of the Council for a Livable World, Doering advocated for nuclear non-proliferation and arms controls.

But Corey said Doering was not concerned with being recognized for his work. Instead, Corey said, he devoted much of his energy to training future chemists—many of whom have become leading scientists in the field and continue to spread Doering’s legacy by teaching their own pupils.

Doering taught at Columbia and Yale but returned as a professor to his alma mater in 1967, driven by what Corey called “a loyalty to Harvard.”

That dedication was matched by his commitment to science, according to Jerome A. Berson, Yale professor emeritus and a student of Doering’s at Columbia.

“He expected his students to have a similar commitment,” Berson said.

Doering’s courses were demanding, but his students admired him nonetheless. Corey remembered waiting to go to lunch with him one day: A student asked to speak with Doering and despite revealing that he had done poorly on a recent exam, the student went on to tell the professor how much he loved the class.

“He was a very clear lecturer and extremely articulate,” Corey said. “You could count on him to use exactly the right word to explain something complex.”

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