For the past decade, LSA chemistry professor Melanie S. Sanford has worked to develop greener and more efficient approaches to chemical synthesis — a process integral to nearly every product we interact with in our daily lives, from plastics to fuels.
At the industrial scale, chemical synthesis is often highly hazardous and energy-intensive, and generates large amounts of waste. Sanford is seeking to address these shortcomings.
In her upcoming Distinguished University Professor lecture, “New Ways to Make Molecules: From Fundamental Science to Applications in Medical Imaging and Drug Development,” Sanford will focus on a key aspect of her team’s research, the development of new ways to form carbon-fluorine bonds.
Such bonds appear in more than 30 percent of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and PET-imaging agents and are typically formed using corrosive, toxic and wasteful processes. Sanford and her lab have developed a new and greener approach using transition metal catalysts.
The talk will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Rackham Amphitheatre. The lecture and the reception that follows are free and open to the public.
A Distinguished University Professorship is the highest professorial honor bestowed on U-M faculty. Sanford is the Moses Gomberg Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, professor of chemistry and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor.
As part of her talk, Sanford will outline the basic scientific principles underpinning her team’s research and will describe the kinds of applications their work has made possible.
“A central part of the story involves the ways that extremely talented graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, biomedical scientists and industrial partners have helped to shape these research efforts in exciting and often unexpected ways,” Sanford says.
Sanford named her professorship for the late Moses Gomberg, a Ukrainian emigré who received his Bachelor of Science and Ph.D. degrees from U-M in 1890 and 1894, respectively. Gomberg joined the U-M faculty in 1893 and remained at Michigan until his retirement in 1936, serving as chair of the Department of Chemistry for nine years.
Hailed as the founder of radical chemistry, Gombert was president of the American Chemical Society in 1931. Upon his death in 1947, he bequeathed his estate to the chemistry department for the creation of student fellowships. In 1993, the department established the Moses Gomberg Lecture series in his honor.
“Gomberg is a giant in both the field of organic chemistry and in the history of the U-M chemistry department,” Sanford says. “Having a professorship in his name is a tremendous honor.”
Sanford received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Yale University, and her Ph.D. in 2001 from the California Institute of Technology, where she worked with Nobel Laureate Bob Grubbs.
Prior to joining the U-M faculty in 2003, Sanford was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. Her numerous research awards include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Blavanik National Award in Chemistry, the BASF Catalysis Prize and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Chemistry. She has published articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Organometallics, and Tetrahedron, among others.