ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution | January 28, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 4 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 4 | p. 83 | Awards
Issue Date: January 28, 2008

ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of John T. Gupton
Credit: Courtesy of John T. Gupton

Sponsored by Research Corporation

In an academic career that has spanned nearly 30 years, John T. Gupton, the Floyd D. & Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry at the University of Richmond, in Virginia, has mentored almost 100 undergraduate students. Gupton, 62, has spent his entire academic career at schools that focus on undergraduate education.

Research has been an important part of the education that Gupton offers his students. Since the 1980s, he has focused on developing new synthetic methodology using vinylogous iminium salts in heterocycle and natural product syntheses.

Gupton's "engaging approach to learning science by doing science in both the classroom and the research laboratory is an extremely successful model," says James A. Sikorski, who collaborated with Gupton's research group for more than 25 years and recently retired as the vice president for medicinal chemistry at AtheroGenics, in Alpharetta, Ga.

Gupton "has a rare gift for identifying and attracting bright, energetic, and talented students to the field of synthetic organic chemistry," says Sikorski, who previously worked at Pharmacia and Monsanto with a number of Gupton's former students. "Each individual brought solid laboratory training, creative problem-solving abilities, a desire to succeed, and the ability to contribute meaningful solutions to whatever research problem was presented," he says.

Gupton's research with vinylogous iminium salts started in 1980 with the 2-azavinamidinium salt system, which he has subsequently called "Gold's Reagent." It has proven useful for synthesizing enaminones, amidines, aldehydes, quinazolinones, imidazoles, and other compounds. Gupton's current research focuses on condensation reactions of aminocarbonyl compounds with vinylogous iminium salt derivatives, which result in the formation of highly functionalized pyrroles that become building blocks for various bioactive marine natural products.

Gupton received a B.S. in chemistry from Virginia Military Institute in 1967. He received a M.S. in chemistry from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1969, but his graduate work was interrupted by his military service in Vietnam. After his stint in the Air Force, he completed a Ph.D. at Georgia Tech in 1975.

Following grad school, Gupton worked as a research chemist at Ciba-Geigy, Greensboro, N.C., for three years. He then pursued his first love, teaching, at undergraduate institutions. The lack of an official postdoctoral position on his résumé made it tough for him to get that first academic position, but he was able to land a job at a university where his industrial experience was an asset. Despite its focus on undergraduates, the University of Central Florida had a small master's program in industrial chemistry. "It was a nice fit for me," Gupton says.

He taught at Central Florida from 1978 to 1994. In 1994, he moved to the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Since 1999, he has been a professor at Richmond.

Gupton says the constraints of the undergraduate environment have shaped his research program. "If you're going to be at a university and you're going to do science, you want to do good science," he says. "The project has to be significant, but it has to be doable in the context of your environment."

The undergraduate environment forces Gupton to design projects that can be cut into pieces. "Each student can have his or her piece of the puzzle," he says.

The award address will presented before the Division of Organic Chemistry.

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