Through the “Extraordinary Fulbrighters” video series, the Fulbright Association is pleased to share the story of Dr. Koji Nakanishi, Centennial Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Columbia University. Dr. Nakanishi was the “first student from a so called enemy country” to come study in the United States. Through the precursor to the Fulbright Program, then called GARIOA (Government Aid and Relief in Occupied Areas), Dr. Nakanishi studied under Professor Louis Fieser at Harvard University.
Dr. Nakanishi’s focus is on bioorganic and natural products chemistry, a field in which he is not only instantly recognizable, but highly lauded for his achievements. He has has determined the structures of over 200 biologically active animals and plant natural products. He has served as a founding member and director for many different centers and institutes, including the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, the Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research in Osaka, and the Institute of Medicinal and Ecological Chemistry in São Paulo.
Dr. Nakanishi represents the full circle of the Fulbright experience. As a student at Harvard, he was able to learn under of the most prominent chemists at the time and learn things he could bring back to Japan. As an educator, he has taught over 400 students across countries, continuing the cycle of international education as a positive feedback system. His legacy, the Nakanishi Prize, was a product of international alliance between the American Chemical Society and the Chemical Society of Japan and is awarded in Japan and the United States to recognize significant achievements in chemistry.