While still in his twenties, Breslow made two groundbreaking contributions to mechanistic organic chemistry. His synthesis of a cyclopropenyl cation generalized the concept of aromaticity to cyclic systems with only 2 π-electrons. This work was bolstered by showing that cyclopropenyl anions and cyclopentadienyl cations, each with 4 π-electrons in a cyclic array, are anti-aromatic (a term Breslow coined). The second contribution helped to establish, using NMR spectroscopy and deuterium exchange, the mechanism by which the coenzyme thiamin (vitamin B1) decarboxylates pyruvic acid.
Among Breslow's many other contributions, his construction of cyclodextrins that can function as artificial enzymes, his use of geometric control to functionalize unactivated positions on steroids, and his creation of novel chemistry based on enzyme reactions (for which he coined the term "biomimetic chemistry") stand out.
Breslow was born in Rahway, New Jersey, received his education at Harvard (Ph.D. with R. B. Woodward in 1955) and spent a postdoctoral year with Lord Todd at Cambridge University. He has been at Columbia University since 1956. Breslow's many honors include the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1966), the Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry (1980), the Cope Award (1987), the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemistry (1989) and the Priestley Medal (1999). During his term as president of the ACS (1996), Breslow wrote "Chemistry Today and Tomorrow", a short book that helped counteract an anti-chemistry attitude among parts of the general public by showing chemistry's numerous benefits to society.
Location in chemistry building:
Fifth Floor; West Wing South Wall; Sequence 4