Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Koji Nakanishi
Koji Nakanishi "I can explain the principle behind a good science experiment in 15 seconds; the same with magic."

Koji Nakanishi (1925- )
Faculty 1969-present

The achievements of organic chemist Koji Nakanishi are recognized internationally for their range and applications. Nakanishi developed new spectroscopic methods to analyze natural products, helping to isolate and determine the structure of more than 180 biologically active compounds produced by animals, plants, insects and microorganisms, and often suggesting commercial and therapeutic uses for them as well. Since 1975, Nakanishi's research has concentrated on the interaction of light with the molecules responsible for vision-studies likely to accelerate the development of a treatment for macular degeneration, which affects many elderly people and leads to the loss of sight. With his current group of graduate students, he is also studying the effects of gingko biloba extract on neurological disorders.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Nagoya University, Nakanishi did postgraduate research at Harvard and taught at three prominent Japanese universities. He returned to the United States in 1969 to establish his natural-products research lab at Columbia. A senior member of the Columbia faculty and a revered figure on campus, Nakanishi is the author of 750 papers and the author, co-author or editor of nine books, including his 1991 autobiography, A Wandering Natural Products Chemist. His list of former students read like a Who's Who of chemistry, and the more than 300 former Koji Nakanishi Research Group members around the world agree that working in his laboratory was a transforming experience. Nakanishi is also an accomplished amateur magician, and has been known to enliven faculty meetings and academic conferences with sleight of hand and other diversions.


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