Professor leads student team to prestigious award


Elisabeth Neely

Chemistry professor Christina White discusses her ongoing work with her graduate students Wei Liu and Siraj Ali. White is the first female recipient for the award for Creative Work in Synthetic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society.

By Daniel Renteria, Contributing Writer

University chemistry professor Christina White has become the first woman to receive the award for Creative Work in Synthetic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, which was first awarded in 1957.

White’s research focuses on the use of carbon-hydrogen bond reactivity to create catalysts that streamline the process of complex molecule synthesis.

“Three of these catalysts are now commercially available and have been used by academic and industrial chemists to simplify the process of making and diversifying molecules of medicinal interest,” White said in an email.

White said she is proud to lead a group of scientists who have made discoveries that are being recognized for changing the way other scientists think about the reactivity of C-H bonds.

Some of the catalysts developed by White’s research team are named after both herself and the graduate students who helped work to develop them, such as the White-Paradine catalyst, named after former Ph.D. student Shauna Paradine.

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“Many of these students are deeply engaged problem solvers who have discovered solutions that I could not have envisaged,” White said. “This award is shared by all of the White group members past and present.”

White also attributes much of her success to Eric Jacobsen, chemistry professor at Harvard University and White’s former postdoctoral adviser.

“Eric taught me to ask the critical questions, ‘Is this result correct and why would anyone care if it is?’” White said. “He encouraged me to become a world expert in what I do and helped me discover the freedom of being seen and valued first and foremost as a scientist.”

Martin Gruebele, professor and head of the chemistry department, said in an email White is not only the first and long-overdue female recipient, but also only the third professor from the University to receive the Creative Work in Synthetic Chemistry award.

“The department is very proud to have a third winner of this very distinguished award, which highlights intellectual innovation in the field of organic chemistry, which is about making novel molecules and finding novel and more efficient mechanisms for making molecules,” he said.

Scott Denmark, professor in chemistry, is one of the three University recipients. He received the award in 2009.

“Recognition by the ACS is something that we greatly appreciate,” Denmark said. “What Christina has done to earn this award is to develop ways in carrying out a kind of chemical transformations that were previously not believed to be possible.”

Denmark said White has introduced methods allowing for the selective conversion of C-H bonds into other kinds of bonds.

“She has developed a very eloquent solution that is of use to chemical industries that want to make products, drugs and materials that we all want to use in our everyday life,” he said.

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