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Erick M. Carreira, 49, has been recognized for contributions to synthetic organic chemistry, creative development of new methods, total synthesis of natural products, and use of synthesis to probe biology.
“What is extraordinary about his work is his versatility and breadth of science,” says Steven V. Ley, a professor of organic chemistry at Cambridge University. “Everything he touches seems to develop into a new area. This is in part due to his depth of understanding of the mechanistic processes under way but equally it is his appreciation of the synthetic relevance of his work to tackle very difficult—often unsolved—synthesis problems,” Ley says.
Carreira, a U.S. national, was born in Havana, Cuba, and studied extensively in the U.S. before moving to Europe in 1998 to take up his current position as professor of organic chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH).
Carreira “has defined the frontier of organic synthesis” since beginning his career in 1993, according to Scott E. Denmark, Reynold C. Fuson Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Since Carreira’s move to ETH, “his trajectory has been nothing short of spectacular,” adds Denmark, with whom Carreira studied as an undergraduate at UIUC.
Carreira’s research program focuses on the asymmetric synthesis of biologically active and stereochemically complex natural products. Drawing from organometallic chemistry, coordination chemistry, and molecular recognition, Carreira’s group is developing catalytic and stoichiometric reagents for asymmetric stereocontrol. More recently, he has initiated a program in the chemical biology of natural products, studying their relevance in human medicine.
Among his achievements, Carreira has developed an excellent asymmetric titanium-based Lewis acid catalyst, a highly atom-economical catalytic asymmetric addition of alkynes to aldehydes, a new chiral diene ligand and its application to catalytic asymmetric reactions, and many excellent total syntheses of biologically significant complex natural products, says Masakatsu Shibasaki, representative director of the Microbial Chemistry Research Foundation and an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo.
Carreira’s work on the development of oxetanes, meanwhile, has contributed much to medicinal chemistry with the development of promising molecules for drug discovery.
Ley rates Carreira’s work with Roche chemists on the use of oxetanes to be equal to the very best in the world. “He has completely overturned our preconceptions of these structures such that virtually all pharmaceutical companies now have programs in this area,” Ley says.
After obtaining a B.S. degree in 1984 from UIUC, Carreira secured a Ph.D. degree in 1990 from Harvard University under the supervision of David A. Evans. After carrying out postdoctoral work with Peter B. Dervan at California Institute of Technology through late 1992, he joined Caltech’s faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry. He was promoted to associate professor in the spring of 1996 and to full professor a year later.
Carreira will present the award address before the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.