National Fresenius Award | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 1 | p. 30 | Awards
Issue Date: January 1, 2007

National Fresenius Award

Department: ACS News
Credit: Baran Lab
Credit: Baran Lab

Sponsored by Phi Lambda Upsilon, the National Honorary Chemical Society

It's been a good thing for chemistry that Denville, New Jersey's Phil S. Baran put aside his childhood dream of wearing an astronaut's spacesuit in favor of donning a lab coat.

Baran's knack for benchwork was in evidence early on by a first-authored paper at age 18 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a porphyrin-fullerene hybrid synthesis that "opened up a completely new area of research in my lab, which has since become our principal focus," says David I. Schuster, a professor of chemistry at New York University. Schuster was so impressed by Baran's "tremendous intellect" as a freshman organic chemistry student, that Schuster gave him a spot in his research lab.

After two years at New York University, Baran had an undergraduate degree in chemistry and six papers under his belt. At age 19, he began grad school with K. C. Nicolaou, at Scripps Research Institute. His doctoral research was a total synthesis of CP-molecules, derived from fungus, which were "two of the most demonic natural products faced by my group," Nicolaou says. This challenge was completed within two years, and Baran spent another two years developing several new synthetic methodologies. His graduate work earned him 32 publications and the ACS Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry in 2003, "unmistakable indicators of his future potential as an independent investigator," Nicolaou notes.

Next, Baran went to Harvard University to work with Nobel Laureate E. J. Corey, who describes him as having a "towering intellect." In Corey's lab, he completed the synthesis of several complex natural products including (+)-austamide and okaramine N, which were "carried out in an extraordinarily small number of steps for molecules so complex," Corey says.

"There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most brilliant young organic chemists that I have ever worked with or known," Corey says. "I am convinced that Phil Baran is, and will be, the most outstanding synthetic chemist of his generation."

Now at age 29, Baran has been leading his own group at Scripps Research Institute since 2003, and he is already the recipient of more than 10 awards solely related to his independent research. With a synthetic style that is extremely concise, Baran's research is focused on making "complex natural product structures in unusual ways that are often not seen in total synthesis ventures," Baran says. In particular, the goal is total syntheses that have a minimum, or absence, of protecting groups and minimal oxidation state fluctuations. New methodology is also continuously sought out to accomplish these objectives.

Phi Lambda Upsilon, an honorary chemistry society, annually presents the Fresenius Award to a faculty member under age 35 at the time of nomination. Established in 1965, the honor recognizes high scholarship and original investigations in pure and applied chemistry. With the receipt of this award, Baran will be joining an elite group of scientists: Past recipients include Martin Karplus, Ronald Breslow, Mostafa El Sayed, John Baldeschwieler, Roald Hoffmann, Harry Gray, Charles Cantor, Nicholas Turro, and Richard Zare.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Analytical Chemistry. —Sarah Everts

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