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2023 Cope and Cope Scholar Award winners

by Nina Notman, special to C&EN
January 13, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 2


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The following vignettes highlight the recipients of the 2023 Arthur C. Cope Award and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards, presented by the American Chemical Society. All statements were emailed and have been edited for length and clarity. Vignettes for the rest of the ACS National Award recipients were published in the Jan. 2 issue of C&EN. Recipients of the Cope Award and Cope Scholar Awards will be honored at a ceremony in the fall of 2023.

Arthur C. Cope Award:

Scott E. Denmark

This is a photo of Scott E. Denmark.
Credit: Courtesy of Scott E. Denmark
Scott E. Denmark

Sponsor: Arthur C. Cope Fund

Citation: For demonstration of how a deep understanding of structure and reactivity leads to the development of useful preparative methods and to innovative mechanistic concepts

Current position: Reynold C. Fuson Professor of Chemistry, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Education: SB, chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; DScTech, chemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich

Denmark on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “To introduce machine learning–based tools to identify optimal catalysts and reaction conditions for many chemical transformations.”

What Denmark’s colleagues say: “Scott is the quintessential mechanistic organic chemist, research scientist, and educator. He has creatively framed numerous concepts in organic chemistry that have enabled and inspired advances in how we think about reactivity, bond formation, and synthesis. The rigor and elegance of his experiments have been inspirational—a fusion of hard-core theory with artistic design and surgically precise execution.”—Paul A. Wender, Stanford University

Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards

Sponsor: Arthur C. Cope Fund

Thorsten Bach

This is a photo of Thorsten Bach.
Credit: Courtesy of Thorsten Bach
Thorsten Bach

Citation: For outstanding accomplishments in the field of organic synthesis and asymmetric catalysis, including enantioselective photocatalysis

Current position: Professor of organic chemistry, Technical University of Munich

Education: Diplom, chemistry, University of Heidelberg; PhD, organic chemistry, University of Marburg

Bach on the most rewarding part of his job: “Academic freedom is a gift for which I am eternally grateful. I cherish the liberty to ask and to answer a scientific question irrespective of how irrelevant it may appear.”

What Bach’s colleagues say: “Thorsten brings an incredible range of innovative and creative approaches to organic synthesis and is the worldwide leader in the area of organic photochemistry. Prior to his pioneering studies at the outset of his career, asymmetric photochemical transformations were thought to be impossible to achieve with the generality we have come to expect for asymmetric catalysis. Thorsten completely changed this perception, and he continues to lead in the area of synthetic photochemistry and drive innovation in the field.”—Corey Stephenson, University of Michigan

Suzanne A. Blum

This is a photo of Suzanne A. Blum.
Credit: Courtesy of Suzanne A. Blum
Suzanne A. Blum

Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of molecular mechanistic chemistry, particularly in reaction development and the use of fluorescence microscopy tools to study chemical reactions

Current position: Professor of chemistry, University of California, Irvine

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Michigan; PhD, chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Blum on what inspires her research: “If there is something I want to understand about how nature works, I simply cannot let it go until I figure it out. The perfectly designed mechanistic experiment is satisfying like nothing else in science. Together, these provide my inspiration to develop new tools and new methods to probe chemical reactions that test my, my laboratory coworkers’, and our field’s understanding of nature.”

What Blum’s colleagues say: “Suzanne is an internationally recognized scholar in chemistry. Her unique research program creatively combines synthetic, mechanistic, analytical, and physical chemistry. She is a world leader in the application of single molecule/single particle fluorescence spectroscopy to study organometallic transformations.”—Scott Rychnovsky, University of California, Irvine

Kevin Burgess

This is a photo of Kevin Burgess.
Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Burgess
Kevin Burgess

Citation: For pioneering work on the applications of BODIPY [boron dipyrromethene] and cyanine dyes in biomedicinal chemistry and intracellular imaging

Current position: Gradipore Chair of Chemistry, Texas A&M University

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Bath; MS, chemistry, University of East Anglia; PhD, organometallic chemistry, University of Cambridge

Burgess on how he became a scientist: “My art teacher at high school made it possible. I had wanted to take chemistry rather than art, and when I presented Mr. Bradnock with my mangled clay pot, he immediately took me to the chemistry class. There, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Bishop, enhanced the motivation process. Alan Katritzky taught me the importance of self-discipline, Ian Fleming and Stuart Warren the importance of clarity in research and teaching, Jack Lewis and Dan Brown encouraged me to try to be a decent person, and Barry Trost taught me passion for science. I am grateful to them all.”

What Burgess’s colleagues say: “Kevin is a most versatile scientist who has had an extremely productive career covering a wide range of areas in organic chemistry: new methodology, chiral catalyst development, high-throughput screening, novel peptidomimetics, fluorescent dyes for intracellular imaging, and, more recently, modulators for protein-protein interactions.”—Huw M. L. Davies, Emory University

Tianning Diao

This is a photo of Tianning Diao.
Credit: Courtesy of Tianning Diao
Tianning Diao

Citation: For contributions to the growth of nickel-catalyzed cross-coupling through mechanistic study and new reaction development

Current position: Associate professor of chemistry, New York University

Education: BS, chemistry, Fudan University; PhD, organic chemistry, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Diao on her scientific hero: “My scientific hero is Chien-Shiung Wu. She was a Chinese American particle and experimental physicist who designed the Wu experiment to prove that parity is not conserved. As an Asian and female scientist, she demonstrates how female scientists can contribute and make extraordinary discoveries in science. She is a role model who inspired me to pursue a career in science.”

What Diao’s colleagues say: “Tianning started her independent career in 2014 and has established a scholarly and creative research program in organometallic chemistry and synthetic methods development with clear future potential. Her focus is nickel catalysis, a field that has witnessed rapid growth in the past 2 decades. Despite this fact, Tianning quickly positioned herself as a key contributor.”—Abigail Doyle, University of California, Los Angeles

Steven P. Nolan

This is a photo of Steven P. Nolan.
Credit: Courtesy of Steven P. Nolan
Steven P. Nolan

Citation: For seminal work on N-heterocyclic carbene-transition-metal complexes and their uses in organic chemistry

Current position: Professor of chemistry, Ghent University

Education: BS, chemistry, University of West Florida; PhD, chemistry, University of Miami

Nolan on his most memorable project: “My most memorable project was the solution calorimetric study of N-heterocyclic carbenes with transition-metal complexes to quantify the metal-N-heterocyclic carbene bond energies. This, to me, was the key study revealing the potential of N-heterocyclic carbenes in transition-metal chemistry and catalysis.”

What Nolan’s colleagues say: “Steven is one of the pioneers in the area of N-heterocyclic carbene chemistry and catalysis. His achievements include the discovery of several original second-generation olefin metathesis complexes. A catalyst developed in his lab has been used in an industrial pharmaceutical process to synthesize a drug for the treatment of the hepatitis C virus. The publication describing this catalyst has influenced a generation of organic chemists and has been cited more than 1,000 times.”—Carl D. Hoff, University of Miami

Jennifer A. Prescher

This is a photo of Jennifer A. Prescher.
Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer A. Prescher
Jennifer A. Prescher

Citation: For innovative advances in bioorthogonal and bioluminescent chemical probes to study biological processes

Current position: Professor of chemistry, University of California, Irvine

Education: BS, chemistry, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse; PhD, chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Prescher on what she hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I hope to continue developing useful probes and imaging tools for the community. There are so many facets of biology that we can’t yet ‘see.’ I also hope to make a positive impact in the field by continuing to support future generations of interdisciplinary scientists.”

What Prescher’s colleagues say: “Jenn is a leading figure in her generation of chemical biologists with a focus on protein engineering and molecular imaging. She is attacking one of the most challenging current targets in molecular imaging—how to monitor biological processes in living animals. She has devised a suite of different strategies to do this and has applied these tools for tracking cell-cell interactions. Most recently, Jenn’s lab has moved to multicolor imaging.”—Christopher J. Chang, University of California, Berkeley

Javier Read de Alaniz

This is a photo of Javier Read de Alaniz.
Credit: Courtesy of Javier Read de Alaniz
Javier Read de Alaniz

Citation: For distinction in creative design and development of actively controlled photoswitches, including negative photochromes, realized by excellence in synthetic transformations of functional organic molecules and materials

Current position: Professor of chemistry and biochemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara

Education: BS, chemistry, Fort Lewis College; PhD, chemistry, Colorado State University

Read de Alaniz on the most rewarding part of his job: “Unexpected discoveries that lead to new scientific directions are the most rewarding. Throughout my career, serendipitous discoveries have played a key role. Nothing is more fun than the moment when you realize the results point toward something new and surprising.”

What Read de Alaniz’s colleagues say: “Javier brings an innovative and adventurous approach to chemistry, drawing inspiration from multiple disciplines and leveraging his strength in synthetic organic chemistry to significantly impact the broader chemistry community. His combination of outstanding impact and creativity across multiple organic chemistry subfields places him in a class of his own.”—Karen L. Wooley, Texas A&M University

Hans Renata

This is a photo of Hans Renata
Credit: Courtesy of Hans Renata
Hans Renata

Citation: For contributions to the discovery of synthetically useful oxygenase biocatalysts and the development of creative chemoenzymatic strategies to synthesize complex natural products

Current position: Associate professor, Rice University

Education: BS, chemistry, Columbia University; PhD, organic chemistry, Scripps Research Florida

Renata names his scientific hero: “It’s K.C. Nicolaou. Reading K.C.’s Classics in Total Synthesis book series as an undergraduate made me fall in love with the field of natural product synthesis and motivated me to pursue research in that area. As a fellow immigrant, I’m also highly inspired by K.C.’s personal story to pursue my American dream in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] field.”

What Renata’s colleagues say: “Hans is one of the most promising young scientists working in the area of combining cutting-edge biocatalysis with complex synthetic organic chemistry. Since starting his independent career, he has accomplished and published some truly stunning synthetic biology–oriented work with immediate appeal and utility to synthetic organic chemistry. We are witnessing the future of synthesis materialize in Hans’s work.”—Phil S. Baran, Scripps Research California

Vincent M. Rotello

This is a photo of Vincent M. Rotello.
Credit: Courtesy of Vincent M. Rotello
Vincent M. Rotello

Citation: For bringing the tools of synthetic, physical organic, and supramolecular chemistry to interdisciplinary sciences

Current position: Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Education: BS, chemistry, Illinois Institute of Technology; MPhil and PhD, chemistry, Yale University

Rotello on what he hopes to accomplish in the next decade: “I have rather modest goals: use organic chemistry to cure cancer, defeat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and read out human health on paper test strips.”

What Rotello’s colleagues say: “In his 25 years of independent research, Vince has produced an incredibly diverse, innovative, and influential body of research that brilliantly blends the atom-by-atom control afforded by synthesis and the rigor of physical organic chemistry. He uses these tools to address important questions and needs in materials and biology. His extremely imaginative program has produced a lasting impact and continues to evolve in new and fascinating directions.”—Jeffrey N. Johnston, Vanderbilt University

Dean J. Tantillo

This is a photo of Dean J. Tantillo.
Credit: Courtesy of Dean J. Tantillo
Dean J. Tantillo

Citation: For fundamental contributions to our understanding of complex organic structures, mechanisms, and dynamics using the tools of applied theoretical chemistry

Current position: Professor of chemistry, University of California, Davis

Education: AB, chemistry, Harvard University; PhD, organic chemistry, University of California, Los Angeles

Tantillo on the most rewarding part of his job: “I love when I make a suggestion to a student and they reply, ‘I already tried that.’ I never tire of seeing them surpass me.”

What Tantillo’s colleagues say: “Dean is one of the most outstanding investigators in the application of theoretical methods to problems in organic chemistry. His research is driven by a desire to understand the structures and reactivity of biologically active organic molecules, both naturally occurring and rationally designed. He has made important contributions to many areas of organic chemistry.”—Jared Shaw, University of California, Davis


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