Volume 85 Issue 6 | p. 32 | Awards
Issue Date: February 5, 2007

ACS Award for Creative Work in Fluorine Chemistry

Department: ACS News

Sponsored by SynQuest Laboratories and Honeywell

Kenji Uneyama published 67 papers early in his career that barely mentioned fluorine. Nearly all of the 107 papers he has published since 1988 have been about synthetic organofluorine chemistry, the area he is most recognized for.

Uneyama believes his unique contributions to the field of fluorine chemistry were partly the result of his coming to the field as a semi-outsider. Before becoming a full professor of chemistry at Japan's Okayama University in 1984, his main focus had been natural products synthesis and the electrochemical transformation of organic molecules.

In the 1980s, he says, interest in fluorine chemistry was growing and there was a need for "systematic accumulation of knowledge on fluorine chemistry and science." His background, he says, brought to the field of fluorine chemistry ideas and methodologies that were "totally different from the traditional ones."

William R. Dolbier Jr., a past recipient of this award, says, "Over the past 10 years, Uneyama emerged as the most diversely creative and productive synthetic organofluorine chemist in the world." Dolbier, who is the Col. Allen R. & Margaret G. Crow Professor of Chemistry at the University of Florida, says he has seen Uneyama speak articulately at "virtually every fluorine-related international conference" held in the past 15 years.

Dolbier cites as examples of Uneyama's most outstanding recent work his development of a novel magnesium-promoted carbon-fluorine bond activation process (Chem. Commun. 1999, 14, 1323) and his results on the chemistry of trifluoromethylated oxiranyl and aziridinyl carbanions (Org. Lett. 2002, 4, 173). Uneyama was the first to clearly show that carbon-fluorine activation is usable in synthesis. Until then, the carbon-fluorine bonds were generally described as symbols of strong chemical bonds and therefore of limited use in lab reactions.

Uneyama believes that his method of using magnesium for carbon-fluorine activation will eventually be useful in some industrial applications. He notes that the conditions for his reactions are mild and yet activate a strong bond and that the use of low-cost, easy-to-handle magnesium is a strong advantage.

Uneyama earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees at Osaka City University, where, in 1969, he wrote a thesis on 3d-orbital resonance in divalent sulfides under his Ph.D. supervisor, Shigeru Oae. He started lecturing the same year at Okayama University, in the south of Japan's main island of Honshu. He directs a young research group with whom he enjoys activities such as ski trips, sea outings, and cherry blossom viewing. Uneyama earned the award of the Society of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Japan, in 1997.

He is very active on the international circuit. Uneyama estimates that he has given presentations over the years at more than 30 international symposia and has given more than 50 talks at universities and institutes worldwide.

His fluency in English is unusual in that he has spent nearly all his life in Japan. He says he owes a debt for this ability to Oae, who encouraged him to "communicate frankly with visitors from abroad," Uneyama recalls. Following this advice helped him master English while in Japan. Uneyama later spent one year (1972-73) as a postdoc at Ohio State University.

Under the rules of employment prevailing at Okayama University and in most of Japan, Uneyama is nearing the mandatory retirement age of 65 but says he still feels 35. He will continue his research work as a member of the fluorine committee of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and as a research adviser to industry.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Fluorine Chemistry.

 

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