Mukund P. Sibi, 56, University Distinguished Professor at North Dakota State University (NDSU), is being honored for developing asymmetric radical reactions and applying them to complex syntheses of important bioregulatory natural products. For a long time, one important challenge in radical chemistry was how to make molecules in enantiomerically pure forms by using small-molecule sources. Sibi invented ways of solving this problem.
"Sibi is without question a leader in the important area of asymmetric synthesis," says Amos B. Smith III, chemistry professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Sibi developed novel methods for preparing chiral building blocks and, in so doing, expanded the scope of radical chemistry. Throughout his career, he has been known for working "outside the box"—that is, taking novel approaches to research topics.
In addition to his work on radical chemistry, Sibi helped solve problems involved in synthesizing β-amino acids. For example, he published research that describes the use of chiral Lewis acid-catalyzed additions of O-benzylhydroxylamine to unsaturated amides to make β-amino acids (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1998, 120, 6615).
One of the practical uses of Sibi's fundamental research is more effective syntheses of therapeutic agents. To advance this effort, Sibi founded the Center for Protease Research at NDSU in 2001. The center, which opened with funding from a five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health, is a broad-based university-wide program that includes faculty in chemistry, cell biology, computational biology, and pharmacology. It aims to combat diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer. During the first five years, Sibi was doing research in the center, but he now focuses on his role as project director.
One recent area of research is the development of new ways to amplify or enhance selectivity in enantioselective transformations. To achieve this, Sibi and his coworkers use fluxional chirality to enhance the chiral environment close to the site of reaction. They have applied this method to a variety of reactions, including radical chemistry. "Chiral relay is a general method and has allowed us to develop templates, ligands, and additives that can be used effectively in organic reactions," he says.
Sibi grew up in a poor family in Bangalore, India, he says. His father was an office clerk, yet he managed to send all five of his children to university. Sibi earned both B.S. (1971) and M.S. (1973) degrees in chemistry from Bangalore University. He completed a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the City University of New York (1980). He did postdoctoral work at Dartmouth College; the University of Waterloo, Ontario; and Florida State University. In 1987, he was hired as an assistant professor at NDSU; he was promoted to full professor in 1998. He has directed the Center for Protease Research since its founding in 2001.
When Sibi joined NDSU, the chemistry department was smaller than it is today. With continued support from his colleagues and a strong effort from Sibi, the department has become successful and has expanded to include biochemistry and molecular biology programs.
Sibi holds eight patents and has coauthored about 150 papers. He has received numerous honors, including being named University Distinguished Professor in 2007.
In addition to conducting an impressive research program, "Sibi is a very active spokesperson for our profession," says Marvin J. Miller, chemistry professor at the University of Notre Dame. Sibi is a popular seminar and symposium speaker at national and international meetings. He also pays a great deal of attention to mentoring his undergraduate and graduate students as well as coworkers at all levels, Miller observes.