Prof. Emeritus Philip Eaton, a pioneering University of Chicago chemist widely recognized as the “founder of cubane”—a molecule previously thought impossible to create because of its geometry—died on July 21 at the age of 87.
Eaton was a renowned leader in the synthesis and study of highly strained compounds, which provide insight into the effect of strain on chemical bonding and reactivity. Known for his insatiable intellectual curiosity, Eaton pursued problems that pushed the boundaries of our understanding of chemistry and paved the way for many advances in the field of organic chemistry.
Eaton made his name in 1964 by successfully synthesizing the molecule cubane. As a result, cubane and its derivatives have become highly sought-after molecules for energy storage and have found numerous applications in materials science, pharmaceuticals, and explosives.
“To this day, it’s a landmark. If you look up a textbook on organic synthesis, Eaton’s cubane synthesis will be showcased,” said Prof. Viresh Rawal, Eaton’s colleague and chair of the UChicago Department of Chemistry. “It is often used to demonstrate the power of chemical synthesis and the ingenuity that such molecules inspire.”