Famous Asian Chemists and their Contribution to Chemistry

Chemistry is an old science!  Born out of the alchemist’s lab, it has come to represent the study of interactions between matter and energy.  The sister science to physics, chemistry focuses more on the properties of substances and their atomic and sometimes subatomic interactions.  It is widely accepted that the ancient cultures of Asia were highly knowledgeable about the sciences, especially chemistry.  All anyone would have to offer are the examples of  gunpowder, inks, barium glasses, and paper to prove this point.  Keeping with the honored tradition of discovery, there are number of noteworthy Asian chemists who have made great contributions to the field of modern chemistry.


Dmitri Mendelev

Everyone in the world of chemistry knows the name. Known as the father of the Periodic Table of the Elements, Mendelev born in Russia through many struggles became a science master.  Mendeleev became Professor of Chemistry at the St. Petersburg Technological Institute and St. Petersburg State University in the 1860s.  Soon thereafter, he published his observations “On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol.”

Julian Banzon

Dr. Banzon was born in the Philippines and earned his bachelors degree at the University of the Philippines.  He received his doctorate in chemistry from Iowa State University, which is also the alma mater of noted organic chemist George Washington Carver.  Early in his career, Banzon studied organic materials and through his experimentation he discovered that many products, native to his homeland, produced ethyl esters fuels.   He has received a number of awards for his work, including being named 1978 – Chemist of the Year Award.   Dr. Banzon’s work can lead to innovations in fuel technologies.

Nobel Laurettes  in Chemistry

Yuan T. Lee

In 1986, Yuan T. Lee received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions in chemical elementary processes.  Most specifically, his work involved the use of advanced chemical kinetics processes to evaluate and manipulate chemical reactions.  Born in Taiwan, Dr. Lee was educated at a number of prestigous universities, including the University of California.  He is served as  Professor and continues his nearly 40 years of research in the areas of chemical reactivity and  chemical kinetics.

Roger Yonchien Tsien and Osamu Shimomura

For their work in discovery and development of green flourescent protein (GFP), organic chemists Drs. Roger Tsein and Osamu Shimomura received the 2008 Noble Prize for Chemistry.  Their work has lead to advances in flouresence microscopy and has wide uses in cell biology and other biological disciplines.

Born in New York City, Dr. Tsein comes from a large family of scientists.  He was educated at fine universities, such as Harvard and Cambridge.  Professor Tsein has shown genius at a young age is most known for his pioneering work in calcium imaging.

Dr. Shimomura was born in Kyoto, Japan. As a boy, he beat the odds and survived the bombing of Nagasaki  during World War II as a child and earned his education.  He enrolled in medical school. IN time, he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. In the 1960s, he began studying jellyfish and which resulted in his of the proteins aequorin and GFP in the small glowing jellyfish. 

Advances in Medicine

Jokichi Takamine

Born in Japan in the mid 1800s, Dr. Takamine received his formal education in Japan. His post graduate work occurred in Scotland, where he earned a Ph.D.  He returned to Japan to teach in the Chemistry division with focus on agriculture.  While  working with an artifical fertilizer company, he isolated an enzyme Takadiastase, which is used in sake ferminatation.  After this success,  Dr. Takamine emigrated to the United States where established his own research laboratory manufacturing Takadiastase.  A few years after his arrival, Dr. Takamine isolated and purified the hormone adrenaline from animal glands.  He was the first to accomplish this and his discovery helped adavnce treatment of asthma.   

Baldomero Olivera, Jr

Dr. Olivera, born in the Phillipines,  graduated from the University of the Phillipines in the 1960s and earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry at California Institute of Technology.   His post doctorate work took place at Stanford. 

Dr. Olivera is known was his ork in the fields of biochemistry.  Most noteably, his work in venom chemistry of snails and snakes. His work with these toxins were important for neuroscience and led to a breakthrough in the study of ion channels and neuro-muscular synapses.  His work earned him the title of Harvard’s Scientist of the Year in 2007 and is a trailblazer in the field of neuropharmacology..

Other Technologies

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray

Born in the 18th century, Prafulla Chandra Ray is best known as the founder of the Indian School of Chemistry and is credited with being a pioner of the chemical industry in India. He studied the sciences in India and abroad. He ultimately became a Professor of Chemistry at Calcutta University.  In 1896, he published a paper on preparation of a new stable chemical compound called mercurous nitrate.  His work lead to more papers, more research involving nitrates and their deriatives, and the founding of the School of Chemistry. A humble man, he believed that the advancement of his people could be achieved through new industries. 

Robert Nalbandyan

Dr. Nalbandvan was born in Armenia and educated at Moscow State University.  He was an accomplished researcher and is known his research on proteins, Dr. Nalbandvan co-discovered  plantacyanin, a blue copper and a photosynethic protein.  This discovery lead to advances in the understanding of photosynthesis.    Dr. Nalbandvan is also known for his research regarding free radicals are linked to highly chemically reactive processes.  

From the reaches of Afghanistan to Yemen, Asian chemists have made remarkable contributions to the sciences, including chemistry. These great thinkers work have helped to advance scientific discovery and transform our world. We are fortunate to have them as giants in which to build future scientific inquiry.

For information on these great minds and other noteable chemists, there are a number of books, including Editor Laylin James’ book, Nobel Laureates in Chemistry. For additional information, check out the following web resources: