Internationally known chemist Eugene Earle “vT” Van Tamelen broke ground in the total synthesis of natural products, including cholesterol, as well as entirely novel molecules—notably 'Dewar benzene,' which many had considered impossible to synthesize. He earned a reputation for creating elegantly simple solutions to complex problems through creative imagination and a talent for visualizing molecules in three dimensions. He was a pioneer in the biomimetic approach to synthesis that has since become a staple in drug development. In his personal life, he pursued his passions for cars and architecture, and designed two vacation homes.
Professor Van Tamelen was born in the small town of Zeeland, Michigan in 1925. He set out to study automotive design but switched to chemistry during undergraduate work at Hope College (AB 1947) in Holland, Michigan, where he became the first undergraduate student to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. He performed doctoral research in organic synthesis under Gilbert Stork at Harvard University (PhD). In 1952, he accepted a position as instructor at U. Wisconsin, where he rose to associate professor in 1956 and full professor in 1959. He was recruited to the Stanford faculty as full professor of chemistry in 1962, and served as department chairman for several terms beginning in 1974.