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Ronald Breslow

2016 Alexander Hamilton Medal Recipient

Photo of Ronald Breslow

Ronald C.D. Breslow, University Professor, Chemistry, received more than 75 national and international awards for his research, teaching and professional roles, including the U.S. National Medal of Science. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy, the Royal Society of Britain, the Japanese Chemical Society, the Korean Chemical Society and the Chemical Research Society of India.

Sadly, Ronald Breslow passed away on October 25, 2017, almost one year after receiving the 2016 Alexander Hamilton Award. Read his obituary: "Columbia College mourns the loss of University Professor Ronald Breslow"

Noteworthy Accomplishments in Science

Breslow discovered the chemical mechanism used by Vitamin B1 in biology, the fundamental system for special stability in molecules with magic numbers of pi electrons, the phenomenon of special instability in molecules with other special numbers of electrons, for which he coined the word “antiaromaticity.” He also created molecules with anti-cancer properties now in human use. The website for his labs can be viewed here.

Photo of Ronald Breslow instructing students in Havemeyer Hall

Columbia College Today

Service to the College

Breslow came to Columbia as an instructor 60 years ago in 1956 and was awarded the Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching in 1960, followed by Columbia’s Great Teacher Award in 1980. That same year, he was appointed by then-Dean of the College Arnold Collery to examine instances where a formerly all-male college near a women’s college had gone coed. The Breslow Report described the evidence that Columbia College could become coeducational without significant damage to Barnard, leading to the College becoming coed in 1983.

“Working with Professor Breslow, who became my mentor, I came to understand something of the beauty and power of chemistry. With his tremendous guidance and encouragement, I found in myself the ability to think creatively about science. I changed my major from neuroscience to biochemistry, and I started to contemplate the option of an M.D./Ph.D. joint program.”

Mary Rozenman CC’03

Photo of Ronald Breslow receiving National Science Medal from President H.W. Bush

Breslow also served on a committee that helped centralize the College and graduate studies under President Sovern who, in 1982, appointed the first-ever Vice President of Arts and Sciences, Donald Hood. Breslow mentored students who have gone on to make significant accomplishments in Chemistry, including Nobel Prize winners, as well as Virginia Cornish CC’91, the first female graduate of the College to become a tenured Columbia professor. In addition to his courses in advanced chemistry, he taught an organic chemistry class specifically for first-year students who had done significant preparatory work. In 2016, Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences awarded him with The Michael Pupin Medal for Service to the Nation in Science, Technology, or Engineering and now he receives the College’s highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Medal.

For more information, read his 2012 cover story in Columbia College Today titled “Ronald Breslow Sees Magic in Chemistry,” and the 2009 feature on “25 Years of Coeducation.”


“At the end of my second year of pre-med at Columbia in 1966, I was struggling, seriously discouraged and having grave doubts about my ability to become a physician. This all changed in September of that year, when I walked into Ron Breslow’s organic chemistry class. He took a course with a terrifying reputation and made it a wonderful, exciting year of detective work and problem solving. His inspirational teaching turned my academic career around, enabling me to become a physician educator. I will forever be grateful to him.”

Dr. Daniel L. Lorber CC’68

Photo from 2015 Hamilton Dinner

Alexander Hamilton Medal

Named in honor of one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton (Class of 1778), the Alexander Hamilton Medal is the highest honor one can receive from Columbia College Alumni Association. It is awarded to members of the community for both distinguished service to the College and exceptional accomplishment in any field of endeavor.

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