K. N. Houk received his A.B., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard, working with R. B. Woodward on experimental tests of orbital symmetry selection rules. In 1968, he joined the faculty at Louisiana State University, moved to the University of Pittsburgh in 1980, and to UCLA in 1986. From 1988-1990, he was Director of the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation. He was Chairman of the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 1991-1994 and became the Saul Winstein Chair in Organic Chemistry in 2009.
Professor Houk has been awarded the von Humboldt Foundation U.S. Senior Scientist Award in 1981, an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the ACS in 1988, the 1991 ACS James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, and the 1998 of the Schrödinger Medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC). He was the Faculty Research Lecturer at UCLA, received the Bruylants Chair from the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium in 1998, and received an honorary doctorate (Dr. rer. nat. h. c.) from the University of Essen in Germany in 1999. He has been an Erskine Fellow in New Zealand, a Lady Davis Fellow at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and a JSPS Fellow in Japan. He was named Honorary Professor at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, in 2014. He won the Tolman Medal of the Southern California Section of the ACS in 1999. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002 and the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences in 2003. He was the 2003 winner of the ACS Award for Computers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, the ACS, and of the WATOC. He was awarded the Arthur C. Cope Award of the ACS in 2009, was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2012, and was awarded the Robert Robinson Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2012. He received the UCLA Society of Postdoctoral Scholars Mentoring Award and the UCLA Glenn T. Seaborg Medal in 2013. In 2019, he was appointed as a Visiting Lecturer at Nanjing Agricultural University.
Houk has served on the Advisory Boards of the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation, the ACS Petroleum Research Fund, and a variety of journals, including Accounts of Chemical Research, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Organic Chemistry, Chemical and Engineering News, the Journal of Computational Chemistry, the Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, Chemistry – A European Journal, and Topics in Current Chemistry. He has been a member of the NIH Medicinal Chemistry and Synthesis and Biological Chemistry Study Sections and the NRC Board of Chemical Sciences and Technology. He was Chair of the Chemistry Section of the AAAS in 2000-2003. He was a Senior Editor of Accounts of Chemical Research from 2005-2015. He was Director of the UCLA Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program from 2002-2012 and is a member of the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute and the California NanoSystems Institute. Since 2018, he has been the North American Co-Chair of Chemistry – A European Journal.
Professor Houk is an authority on theoretical and computational organic chemistry. His group is involved in developments of rules to understand reactivity, computer modeling of complex organic reactions, and experimental tests of the predictions of theory. He collaborates prodigiously with chemists all over the world. Among current interests are the theoretical investigations and design of enzyme-catalyzed reactions, the quantitative modeling of asymmetric reactions used in synthesis and the mechanisms and dynamics of pericyclic reactions and competing diradical processes. He has published about 1270 articles in refereed journals and is a Highly Cited Researcher, with an h-index of 131.
The Houk Group solves problems in organic and biological chemistry using theoretical and computational methods. Theoretical predictions and designs of new reactions, reagents, and catalysts are tested experimentally by a worldwide network of collaborators. The group is currently heavily involved in the study of dynamics of chemical reactions and the motions and properties of nanomachines.
The Houk Group conducts research in the following areas:
- Molecular dynamics of chemical reaction mechanisms, especially ambimodal reactions
- Enzyme mechanisms, selectivities, and design of novel enzymes
- Pericyclases: enzymes that catalyze pericyclic reactions
- Mechanisms and design of stereoselective organic reactions and catalysts
- Pericyclic reaction mechanisms, dynamics, rates, synthetic applications, and biorthogonal chemistry
- Organometallic reaction mechanisms and CH functionalizations
- Organic materials, molecular devices, and host-guest chemistry – structures and dynamics
Honors & Awards
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
- Robert Robinson Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry
- UCLA Society of Postdoctoral Scholars Mentoring Award
- UCLA Glenn T. Seaborg Medal
- Computers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research ACS Award for Computers in Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Research
- American Academy of Arts and Sciences American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Fellow of the JSPS
- Hebrew University, Jerusalem Israel Lise Meitner Lecturer
- Technion, Israel Lady Davis Fellow
- American Chemical Society Southern California Section Tolman Medal
- World Association of Theoretical Organic Chemistry Schrodinger Medal
- University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand Visiting Erskine Fellow
- Herbert Newby McCoy Award, UCLA
- James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry
- Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Akron Section of the American Chemical Society Award
- Von Humboldt U.S. Senior Scientist Award
- LSU Distinguished Research Master Award
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship
- Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Grant
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Chemical Society
- Chemical Society of London
- International Society of Quantum Biology
- Inter-American Photochemical Society
- International Academy of Quantum Moelcular Science