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ACS Award For Research At An Undergraduate Institution

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Kenneth Moore
January 26, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 4

Credit: Courtesy of Moses Lee
Credit: Courtesy of Moses Lee

Sponsored by Research Corporation

Moses N. F. Lee's interest in chemistry arose from his fascination with life and its processes. Growing up in a farming community in Malaysia, Lee, 47, says his scientific curiosity started with plants. "I remember grafting fruit trees as a young boy with my father to create a tree that would produce excellent fruits," Lee says.

The buds of exciting adventure and discovery that botanical experience offered him blossomed in his high school chemistry class, taught by John Forsythe. From Forsythe's classes, Lee says, "chemistry came to life. I could see how chemistry was the basis of life and its processes, thus the beginning of my love for chemistry and biology and their relation to medicine.

"I am especially excited about my work because of its potential applications and positive impact on society," Lee says. His interest in chemistry and biology has led to 147 publications, including work on anticancer and antiparasite compounds, gene-control agents, and chemical education. A recent publication details an orally active, transmission-blocking DNA-targeted agent that shows promise in preventing malaria (J. Infect. Dis. 2008, 197, 527). His group is now looking at oncogenes in breast and prostate cancers to try to control the genes associated with cancer progression. ML-970, an anticancer compound developed in Lee's lab, is currently in preclinical studies (Mol. Cancer Ther. 2007, 6, 2708).

During his almost 20 years at undergraduate institutions, Lee has mentored more than 250 students, mostly undergraduates, instilling in them his excitement and love for chemistry. "Lee is an inspirational mentor, cultivating the careers of countless undergraduates," says Dale L. Boger, Richard & Alice Cramer Professor of Chemistry at Scripps Research Institute. Michael P. Doyle, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biology at the University of Maryland, adds that Lee is "an effective, tireless, and encouraging leader. Students gravitate to him."

Lee completed a bachelor's degree in 1983 and a Ph.D. in 1986, both at the University of Guelph, in Ontario. He then had a postdoctoral stint with J. William Lown at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. From 1987 to 1989, he worked as a research scientist at SynPhar Laboratories (now part of Naeja Pharmaceutical), in Edmonton, developing antiviral, anticancer, and antiulcer agents, before he became an assistant professor at Furman University, in Greenville, S.C. In 2005, Lee left his post as the Rose J. Forgione Professor of Chemistry at Furman to become dean of natural and applied sciences and professor of chemistry at Hope College, in Holland, Mich.

Working with students "is possibly one of the most gratifying aspects of what I do," Lee says. Despite having moved to a primarily administrative position, Lee says, his research program has grown since his move. Hope's philosophy that "learning science is best done by doing science" reflects Lee's own teaching philosophy. "My research program is driven by my own passion to discover new science and to have an opportunity to impact society, as well as by my passion to encourage and empower more students to pursue science careers. I am convinced that giving the opportunity to 'taste' and experience science in the research laboratory is the best way to achieve this goal."

Lee will present the award address before the Division of Organic Chemistry.


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