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ACS Award For Creative Work In Synthetic Organic Chemistry

by Bethany Halford
February 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 5

Credit: Lee Pellegrini
Amir H. Hoveyda, Boston College, the Patricia and Joseph T. ’49 Vanderslice Millennium Professor of Chemistry
Credit: Lee Pellegrini

Sponsored by Aldrich Chemical Co. LLC

Amir H. Hoveyda confesses that he only became interested in chemistry when he discovered the science’s creative side. “I always wanted to be an architect or some kind of creative artist,” he says. “When I was introduced as an undergraduate to organic chemistry as a creative endeavor, I realized I could combine being original and expressing myself through organic chemistry rather than the so-called traditional fine arts.”

Since his student days, Hoveyda has spent decades examining chemical problems with an artist’s eye, in the process making molecular masterpieces in the areas of catalyst design and development as well as total synthesis of complex natural products. This year, his efforts at creating beautiful molecules through aesthetically pleasing transformations are being recognized with this ACS award.

Hoveyda first learned of chemistry’s creative side as an undergraduate at Columbia University. He went on to earn a doctorate at Yale University, where he worked with Stuart L. Schreiber. Postdoctoral work with Harvard University’s David A. Evans followed. In 1990, Hoveyda joined the faculty at Boston College, where he is currently the Joseph T. & Patricia Vanderslice Millennium Professor of Chemistry.

Highlights in research creativity from the Hoveyda lab include the first application of ring-closing metathesis to access a macrocyclic intermediate in the synthesis of a natural product. In collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Richard R. Schrock, Hoveyda’s group developed the first effective enantioselective metathesis catalysts. Synthetic chemistry experts note that the ruthenium carbene complex developed in Hoveyda’s lab is the most widely used alkene metathesis catalyst and is key to the synthesis of an anti-hepatitis-C agent.

“Amir Hoveyda runs one of the most important and innovative programs in the world in organic chemistry,” says Harvard’s Eric N. Jacobsen. “Hoveyda has demonstrated that he is one of the very few scientists in the world capable of performing research at the cutting edge of catalytic reaction development and total synthesis.”

“Amir’s work is characterized by deep, mechanistically driven molecular design and careful experimental execution,” adds synthetic organic chemist K. C. Nicolaou of Rice University.

In the past few years, Hoveyda and his students have found a way to selectively make Z alkenes in a catalytic cross-metathesis process. These catalysts “illustrate how a seemingly impossible problem can be solved by a simple strategy,” notes University of California, Berkeley, synthetic organic chemist John F. Hartwig. “Such solutions are Hoveyda’s signature.”

Despite the usefulness of the chemistry developed in his labs, Hoveyda says his interest in the subject remains largely aesthetic. “As I grow older, the poetry of science is much more important to me than its utilitarian side. Many colleagues are deeply interested in technological advances. I’m interested first and foremost in whether the question I’m asking will give a fundamental insight into how molecules interact,” he says. “I live in a house in New England with a flat roof. Many of the walls are glass, which does not hold heat very well. And I drive Alfa Romeos. Clearly I’m a person who favors form over function.”

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


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