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Arthur C. Cope Scholar: Scott A. Snyder

by Linda Wang
February 27, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 9

Credit: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University
Scott A. Snyder, associate professor of chemistry, Columbia University
Credit: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University

Scott A. Snyder knows just how important it is to expose young people to research experiences.

Now a natural products chemist and an associate professor of chemistry at Columbia University, Snyder, 35, credits his parents with fostering his interests in math and science. Snyder’s mother is a high school calculus teacher, and his father is a biochemistry professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Snyder recalls that growing up, he spent many days experimenting in his father’s research lab.

That preparation paid off. In high school, Snyder was selected to attend the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad study camp. He says the experience allowed him to meet other high school students who were excited about chemistry. By the time Snyder began his undergraduate studies at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., he had made up his mind to become a chemist.

Snyder went on to earn a Ph.D. from Scripps Research Institute, where he worked under the guidance of K. C. Nicolaou on the chemistry and biology of the marine-derived antitumor agent diazonamide A. He and Nicolaou also coauthored the textbook “Classics in Total Synthesis II,” which is one of the best-selling graduate titles in chemistry.

Snyder then completed a postdoc at Harvard University in the lab of Nobel Laureate E. J. Corey, with whom he accomplished the enantioselective total synthesis of four members of the dolabellane family of natural products.

At Columbia, Snyder is developing new strategies for the total synthesis of complex, stereochemically dense natural products derived from resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine that is believed to have a number of health benefits. His group has also developed a number of reagents to prepare halogenated natural products. To date, the group has completed the total synthesis of more than 40 compounds.

“Scott’s creativity and inventiveness, and his ability to look at total synthesis from a totally different perspective than that of the best-known organic chemists, represent his greatest strengths,” says Madeleine M. Joullié, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. “He appears to have a unique talent to harvest all the known chemical knowledge and reduce it to its simplest and most elegant form, and he can visualize the most complicated molecules in terms of very simple concepts that require few steps.”

Snyder’s projects “have had deep impact on both synthetic design and methods development, evidenced not only by total citations but also by their routinely being among the most highly read papers in both JACS and Angewandte Chemie,” says Nicolaou, chair of the chemistry department at Scripps. “It is clear that Snyder has developed a truly unique synthesis style and is already a leader in his field.”

In addition to his research, Snyder is helping to foster the next generation of scientists by providing opportunities for high school and undergraduate students to work in his lab. “Having had that chance to do research [when I was a young student] was a key factor in my decision to become a chemist,” he says. “I try to do the same for others each summer.”


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