Rice University cancer researcher Kyriacos Costa “K.C.” Nicolaou has been elected to the Royal Society of London – the national academy of science in the United Kingdom.
The Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Chair of Chemistry at Rice, Nicolaou is one of eight new foreign members of the acclaimed fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists from science, engineering and medicine.
The Royal Society, which elects 44 fellows and eight foreign members each year, was created in the 1660s to recognize, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science to benefit humanity.
“Dr. Nicolaou’s election as a non-British member to the Royal Society underscores the sustained and remarkable contributions he has made to his field,” said Dan Carson, dean of Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences, the Schlumberger Chair of Advanced Studies and Research and professor of biochemistry and cell biology. “He is a scientist of global stature in every sense.”
Nicolaou is an expert in finding new techniques and strategies for chemical synthesis. His “Classics in Total Synthesis” are required reading in many graduate-level courses around the world. His undergraduate course and textbook titled “Molecules That Changed the World” have also had a global impact in education.
His lab specializes in organic chemistry with a focus on the total synthesis of molecules found in nature. His best-known breakthrough is the total synthesis of paclitaxel, better known as Taxol, a widely used anti-cancer drug.
Nicolaou’s lab has also synthesized the anti-leukemia agent calicheamicin, the antibiotic of last resort vancomycin, the antifungal drug amphotericin, the immunosuppressant drug rapamycin and brevetoxins A and B, two molecules associated with the red tide phenomenon that is deadly to marine life.
Nicolaou began at Rice this past January by moving his lab from California’s Scripps Research Institute to Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative with the aid of a recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
A native of Cyprus, Nicolaou earned a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of London. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University and Harvard University. He began his independent research program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded a Sloan Fellowship for early career scientists, and moved to the University of California, San Diego and Scripps in 1989.
Nicolaou’s election to the Royal Society complements a number of similar premier honors in his distinguished career. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the German Academy of Science Leopoldina. He is a recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry.
When Nicolaou is admitted to the Royal Society during a ceremony in July, he will present a seminar for new fellows there.
“KC was educated at the University of London, and so this great honor will have a special place in his heart,” said Seiichi Matsuda, Rice’s E. Dell Butcher Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry.
Peter Wolynes, the Welch Foundation Professor of Science and a professor of chemistry at Rice, is also a foreign member of the Royal Society.