Remembering David A. Evans (1941-2022)

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We are sad to report that synthetic chemist Professor David Evans, co-creator of ChemDraw, former UCLA faculty member, and 2006 Seaborg Medalist, passed away at the age of 81 on April 29.   

Harvard professor emeritus David A. Evans is remembered by his colleagues as an outstanding scientist and a great teacher and mentor.   

“Dave Evans was a superb researcher who introduced many extremely useful procedures and concepts in synthetic organic chemistry,” said organic chemist Professor Michael Jung. “But, I really believe that Dave was first and foremost a teacher, from his days at UCLA when he pioneered the consonant and dissonant theory to his early assistance in developing ChemDraw to his online posts, e.g., of organic pKa tables. It is no surprise that he won the Distinguished Teaching award at UCLA and that many of his students have gone on to successful careers in academia. His publications and lectures were always notable for the incredibly precise and careful drawings which made them much easier to understand. I did not overlap with Dave when he was at UCLA; indeed, it was his move to Cal Tech in 1974 that opened the door for me to be hired as the synthetic chemist at UCLA. I have often described that in chemical terms. It was not an SN2 reaction – Jung in, Evans out – but rather clearly an SN1 reaction – Evans out, vacant orbital, Jung in. Dave was a big help to me getting started at UCLA and I will be forever grateful to him for that assistance. We have lost a creative researcher and an incredibly dedicated teacher, a giant in the world of synthetic organic chemistry.” 

“We have lost an organic chemistry great,” said organic chemist Professor Ken Houk. “Dave enriched chemistry and the lives of chemists since his beginnings at UCLA”. 

Evans with the “new” Macintosh computer (circa 1989) and at the 2006 Seaborg Medal dinner with Bill Schopff and Caltech great Jack Roberts.

Evans was born in Washington D.C. in 1941. He received his A.B. degree from Oberlin College in 1963. He obtained his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology in 1967, where he worked under the direction of Professor Robert E. Ireland. In that year he joined the UCLA faculty. While at UCLA, Evans was awarded the prestigious Camille and Henry Dreyfus Distinguished Teaching Award. In 1973 Evan was promoted to the rank of Full Professor and shortly thereafter returned to Caltech where he remained until 1983. In that year he joined the Faculty at Harvard University and in 1990 he was appointed as the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry. Evans developed new stereoselective reactions and the asymmetric synthesis of natural products.  Evans remained at Harvard University until his retirement in 2008.  

Among many other honors, Evans received the ACS Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry in 1982 from the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Pfizer Research Award for Synthetic Organic Chemistry from Pfizer, Inc. in 1992, the Tetrahedron Prize in 1998, the Robert Robinson Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK, in 1998, the Prelog Medal from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland, in 1999, the Ryoji Noyori Prize from the Society of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Japan, in 2006, the Arthur C. Cope Award from the ACS in 2000, and the ACS Award for Creativity in Molecular Design and Synthesis in 2010. 

He was a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

At Harvard, Evans and his wife Sally Evans, a science and math teacher who was, at the time, managing Evan’s lab, collaborated with Stewart Rubenstein, then a graduate student in E. J. Corey’s group, to develop the chemical graphics program ChemDraw, which was introduced in 1986. Now, three decades later, this software has become the dominant vehicle for drawing chemical structures in the organic chemistry community.  (Read more here.) 

In 2006, Evans returned to UCLA to accept the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal at the annual Seaborg Symposium, hosted by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  

On Twitter, Evan’s Harvard colleague Professor Stuart Schreiber wrote of hearing Evans lecture for the first time at a large organic chemistry meeting in 1977. “Dave appeared in a colorful Hawaiian shirt and was warm, engaging and down-to-earth.  But when he lectured, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of organic chemistry. The extraordinary rate accelerations seen in his potassium alkoxide oxy-Cope reaction were made so understandable by his first-principles approach, and by the clarity in his teaching. The elegance of Dave and his research is embodied in ChemDraw, which he and his wife Sally helped envision and create, and his recognition that combined with the Macintosh computer the way we teach organic chemistry would be forever changed.” Evans is pictured above with the new Mac. (Photo above courtesy of Stuart Schreiber). 

In 1999, Evans wrote an autobiographical piece, which includes information about his career and the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry from 1967-1974. Evans is survived by his wife, Selena “Sally” Anne Welliver Evans, their daughter, Bethan Hill Evans Davenport (David), two wonderful grandsons, Stephen and Christopher, his brother Thomas Edward Evans (Nancy) and their children. 

He will be interred at the Charles Baber Cemetery in Pottsville, PA in the Boone Family plot later this summer. Memorial donations can be made to Oberlin College 50 West Main Street Oberlin Ohio 44074 for the David A. Evans ’63 Chemistry Prize or on line at

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,