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2021 Cope and Cope Scholar Award winners

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Linda Wang
January 8, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 2

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The following vignettes highlight the recipients of the 2021 Arthur C. Cope Award and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards, presented by the American Chemical Society. Vignettes for the rest of the ACS National Award recipients were published in the Jan. 4 issue of C&EN. Recipients of the Cope Award and Cope Scholar Awards will be honored at a ceremony in the fall of 2021.

Arthur C. Cope Award

This is a photo of John Hartwig.
Credit: Courtesy of John Hartwig
John Hartwig

John F. Hartwig

Sponsor: Arthur C. Cope Fund

Citation: For the discovery, development, and mechanistic elucidation of practical reactions catalyzed by transition-metal complexes, including C–H bond functionalization and cross-coupling

Current position: Henry Rapoport Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Education: AB, chemistry, Princeton University; PhD, chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Hartwig on his scientific role model: “My role model is an amalgamation of great mentors and others frequently encountered: Dick Andersen’s index cards and Sam Danishefsky’s postseminar questions became my model for covering literature; Bob Bergman and John Bercaw’s rigor became my model for problem solutions; Steve Lippard and Paul Wender’s confidence and relentlessness to solve any problem became my model for navigating research projects; and my late mother-in-law Elizabeth Urey Baranger’s choosing of a career in theoretical physics in the 1950s, her later impact as an administrator, and her eternal optimism was a model for impacting science by universal opportunity.”

What Hartwig’s colleagues say: “Hartwig and his coworkers have made a series of discoveries that have had a major impact on both organometallic chemistry and synthetic organic chemistry and have played a major role in redirecting the thrust of organometallic chemistry in the US and globally.”—Maurice Brookhart, University of Houston

Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards

Sponsor: Arthur C. Cope Fund

Igor V. Alabugin

This is a photo of Igor V. Alabugin.
Credit: Courtesy of Igor V. Alabugin
Igor V. Alabugin

Citation: For advancing stereoelectronic concepts to provide a deeper understanding of chemical reactivity, culminating in the design of new cyclization, cycloaddition, and cycloaromatization reactions

Current position: Professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Florida State University

Education: BSc and MS, chemistry, PhD, organic chemistry, Moscow State University

What really gets Alabugin excited: “Chemists can be much better organizers than politicians. We can lead a myriad of quantum objects to perform a complicated dance that mirrors ideas represented as lines on paper. The fact that this thought process works and that we can control molecular behavior with atomic precision continues to amaze me. Discovering new chemical reactions, creating something that never existed, being the first one to understand how things work—this never gets old. I like that chemistry is becoming much more fast-paced and we get answers quickly. New reactions; new techniques for reaction control; photo-, electro-, flow-, quantum-mechanical insights; computer guidance in reaction design—all of that is exciting. I also enjoy seeing how students grow intellectually and personally. It’s exciting to show them the world of opportunities and to help them to find their path in science!”

What Alabugin’s colleagues say: “His remarkable combination of deep understanding of theory and reaction mechanisms allows him to design new organic reactions. He has an exquisite ability to translate complicated theoretical concepts into language understandable by ­organic chemists. Alabugin’s specialty is the exploitation of stereoelectronic effects for the design of cyclization and alkyne chemistry. I own a copy of his book on the subject, and it is superb. Alabugin is a sought-after lecturer and the recipient of many awards for teaching and mentoring.”—Josef Michl, University of Colorado Boulder

Yimon Aye

This is a photo of Yimon Aye.
Credit: Courtesy of Yimon Aye
Yimon Aye

Citation: For her outstanding achievements in the development of new technologies that shine light on how ephemeral biological electrophiles can rewire cellular signaling processes

Current position: Associate professor and director of the Laboratory of Electrophiles and Genome Operation, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL)

Education: B.Chem, chemistry, M.Chem, organic chemistry, University of Oxford; PhD, organic chemistry, Harvard University

Aye’s favorite scientific role model: “I have several living and deceased, but perhaps the late Dorothy Hodgkin because I was an undergraduate chemist at University of Oxford’s Somerville College, where Hodgkin once studied—as well as tutored—chemists. I thus felt directly inspired by Hodgkin’s scientific legacy. Furthermore, as a student having not had access to proper education before my arrival to the UK, her legacy made a long-lasting impact on my future career goals since my high school days in the UK.”

What Aye’s colleagues say: “Yimon is most well known as a chemical biologist who has expanded her work to deeper biological problems. This is unsurprising as her work has made significant impact in the fields of noncanonical signaling, gain-of-function biology, and ribonucleotide reductase biology. However, it often goes unnoticed just how much chemistry Yimon has brought to the table through her varied scientific endeavors.”—Xile Hu, EPFL

Christopher J. Cramer

This is a photo of Christopher Cramer.
Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Cramer
Christopher Cramer

Citation: For the development, dissemination, and application of state-of-the-art theoretical models in order to understand the structures, properties, and reactivities of organic and organometallic molecular systems

Current position: Distinguished McKnight University Professor and vice president for research, University of Minnesota

Education: BA, mathematics and chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis; PhD, chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Cramer on his scientific role model: “I’m reluctant to choose a single individual. I try to emulate those who pursue their science with a generous, collaborative spirit. While it’s always exciting to have a flash of personal insight that contributes to a project, I find it even more rewarding to engage in intellectual brainstorming with a diverse team. That includes not only working with my own research group, but also engaging with many others—collaborative projects have been incredibly important in my career and have been the ones that have most helped me to grow as a chemist.”

What Cramer’s colleagues say: “Christopher Cramer is a theoretician/modeler who has been particularly successful in applying the principles of physical organic chemistry to a broad spectrum of problems. These contributions have ranged from the development and dissemination of new theoretical models, now adopted by many researchers worldwide, to the specific application of modeling tools to answer especially interesting chemical questions associated with organic structure and reactivity. He is also my go-to colleague when I am in need of refinement of my understanding of any fundamental chemical principle.”—Thomas R. Hoye, University of Minnesota

Ilan Marek

This is a photo of Ilan Marek.
Credit: Courtesy of Ilan Marek
Ilan Marek

Citation: For his pioneering work on transforming alkyne derivatives into densely functionalized aliphatic chains possessing several adjacent stereocenters

Current position: Professor of chemistry, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology

Education: BSc, MSc, and PhD, chemistry, Pierre and Marie Curie University

Marek on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “We should do more with less while preserving Earth’s natural resources. Catalysis is the quintessential concept for sustainability and in this ­context, I would love to develop a selecti­ve, efficient, and sustainable catalytic functionalization of primary C–H bonds of linear alkanes into a large array of ­valuable functionalized aliphatic derivatives.”

What Marek’s colleagues say: “Marek has reported several groundbreaking (and carbon-carbon-bond breaking!) examples of methods for quaternary carbon formation that will undoubtedly be the subject matter of textbooks in chemistry.”—Richmond Sarpong, University of California, Berkeley

David A. Nagib

This is a photo of David A. Nagib.
Credit: Courtesty of David A. Nagib
David A. Nagib

Citation: For developing novel strategies to enable highly selective functionalizations of unactivated carbon-hydrogen bonds by free radical mechanisms

Current position: Associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Ohio State University

Education: BS, chemistry, Boston College; PhD, chemistry, Princeton University

Nagib on his favorite moments in the lab: “As a researcher, I love that feeling when I first see a new NMR signal confirming an aspirational idea. As a teacher-mentor, I love seeing my students with a giant grin when they get their own ‘big hit’ or after that ‘aha’ moment when they solve a tough problem! As a parent of preschoolers, I also get to play in magical Lego cities a lot. I love seeing the world as a child again.”

What Nagib’s colleagues say: “The area of C–H activation and functionalization for the synthesis of complex organic molecules is currently populated by some of the most seasoned researchers and an exceptionally talented cadre of new academics, and it is extremely difficult to make an impact, let alone be noticed. In this crowded field David’s contributions are quite extraordinary in terms of their breadth and depth. He has harnessed the power of radicals to construct uncommon bonds, medicinally relevant cyclic structures, and more recently established a connection between radical chemistry and enantioselective copper catalysis. His work is characterized by uncommon creativity and innovation.”—T. V. “Babu” RajanBabu, Ohio State University

David Sarlah

This is a photo of David Sarlah.
Credit: Courtesy of David Sarlah
David Sarlah

Citation: For his creative development of arene paraphotocycloadditions that have led to imaginative applications in the stereocontrolled synthesis of highly functionalized cyclohexanes and complex natural products

Current position: Assistant professor of chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Ljubljana; PhD, chemistry, Scripps Research Institute

Sarlah on his scientific role model: “As a synthetic organic chemist, I highly appreciate the immense intellectual and academic contributions of E. J. Corey. The impact of his research can be seen across all facets of molecular sciences; he revolutionized how we build molecules and also trained generations of highly successful scientists, including my PhD adviser K. C. Nicolaou. Being part of this academic lineage is a tremendous honor and responsibility, and I use my passion for synthesis to motivate and inspire students around me.”

What Sarlah’s colleagues say: “David’s accomplishments clearly set him apart from his contemporaries. His unique approach to synthetic photochemistry has garnered an impressive number of invitations for lectures and also a bounty of funding. David is brilliant without being egotistical, he is ambitious without being overbearing, he is creative without being eccentric, and most of all, he is scholarly without self-promotion. David’s photochemical dearomatization is absolutely unique.”—John L. Wood, Baylor University

Peter R. Schreiner

This is a photo of Peter R. Schreiner.
Credit: Courtesy of Peter R. Schreiner
Peter R. Schreiner

Citation: For contributions spanning organocatalysis, diamondoid hydrocarbons, dispersion, and tunneling that open new fields for organic chemistry

Current position: University Professor, Justus Liebig University Giessen

Education: Diploma, chemistry, Dr. rer. nat., organic chemistry, University of Erlangen-Nurenberg; PhD, computational chemistry, University of Georgia

Schreiner on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “My dream is to combine tunneling reactivity with catalysis. While the mechanisms are completely different, the result is the same: a product can be made more efficiently, either by lowering the rate-determining barrier with a catalyst or by cutting through the barrier via tunneling. Might this be possible? Could it be triggered externally through light or something else? Can the two concepts be combined? So much to discover, so little time.”

What Schreiner’s colleagues say: “In his generation, Peter Schreiner is probably the leading physical organic chemist worldwide, having made seminal contributions throughout his career. He repeatedly challenged conventional wisdom, and he has provided the concrete, experimental work that supports his challenges. He has an active and creative mind, and he represents exactly the kind of chemist that younger chemists should strive to emulate.”—Peter Chen, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich

Michinori Suginome

This is a photo of Michinori Suginome.
Credit: Courtesy of Michinori Suginome
Michinori Suginome

Citation: For his design of molecular systems for new reactions and functions and his pioneering development of chirality-switchable, helical macromolecular scaffolds for control of chirality

Current position: Professor of chemistry, Kyoto University

Education: BS and PhD, chemistry, Kyoto University

Suginome on what gets his creative juices flowing: “I believe chemistry is the most creative natural science, allowing us to design, create, and explore new molecular fields on the basis of our own ideas. The most exciting moment is when unexpected discovery occurs, as it allows for new perspectives. It gives me great pleasure to mull over how our molecular functions and concepts can be extended further.”

What Suginome’s colleagues say: “Suginome is an exceptional chemist who has made outstanding contributions and great impact in diverse research fields.”—Scott E. Denmark, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dirk Trauner

This is a photo of Dirk Trauner.
Credit: Courtesy of Dirk Trauner
Dirk Trauner

Citation: For outstanding contributions to the field of natural product synthesis and his seminal role in the fields of photopharmacology and chemical optogenetics

Current position: Professor of chemistry and neuroscience, New York University

Education: Diploma, chemistry, Free University of Berlin; PhD, organic chemistry, University of Vienna

Trauner on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to control every single step in the life cycle of a protein with light. And I want to shape cellular membranes and lipid pathways with light. Generally, I hope to demonstrate the usefulness of photopharmacology to both basic research and human therapy within the next decade.”


What Trauner’s colleagues say: “Dirk Trauner is a leader in the field of organic chemistry, broadly defined, whose research program combines natural product synthesis at its best with chemical research beyond traditional borders; more specifically, he is a pioneer of a field best described as ‘chemical optogenetics.’ ”—Alois Fürstner, Max Planck Institute for Kohlenforschung

Helma Wennemers

This is a photo of Helma Wennemers.
Credit: Courtesy of Helma Wennemers
Helma Wennemers

Citation: For the development of small molecules that function like natural macromolecules, especially bioinspired asymmetric catalysts and functionalizable molecular scaffolds

Current position: Professor of organic chemistry, ETH Zurich

Education: Diploma, chemistry, Goethe University Frankfurt; PhD, chemistry, Columbia University

Wennemers on what gets her creative juices flowing: “An unexpected, exciting research result and the ensuing process of scratching one’s head, reading, discussing with coworkers, and designing iterative experiments to solve the puzzle.”

What Wennemers’s colleagues say: “Wennemers leads an ambitious research program on the development of small organic molecules with functions that are fulfilled in nature by large macromolecules. The major thrust has been in organocatalysis, but with a unique and highly creative approach that is inspired by peptides. Although these oligomers play crucial roles in life processes, not a single catalytically active peptide is known in nature. Wennemers has answered the profound question: Can short peptides function as effective catalysts?”—Ron Raines, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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