With this award from the Chemistry Research Instrumentation and Facilities: Multi-user (CRIF:MU) program, Professor Steven Zimmerman and colleague John Hartwig from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will acquire a high-throughput experimentation (HTE) system. The proposal is aimed at enhancing research training and education at all levels, especially in areas of study such as (a) catalytic reactions exploiting main group compounds, (b) discovery and mechanistic analysis of transition metal-catalyzed reactions, (c) high-throughput development of chemical sensor systems, (d) discovery of biologically active organic molecules, and (e) discovery of organic molecules that bind RNA.

A high-throughput experimentation system incorporates robotics, data processing and control software as well as a variety of different technologies to synthesize, analyze and screen multiple reaction conditions and outcomes in an automated way that otherwise would require a multitude of individual experiments. By entailing grid-based sampling of physical and chemical variables, the technique saves time and is capable of carrying out reactions in a combinatorial manner and is useful in chemical and biological systems and especially for studies in catalysis. The proposed HTE equipment will be used to educate students through both research and formal course instruction and as part of outreach activities. In addition, the system will be used by participants in special programs that bring underrepresented groups to campus, such as the Snyder Scholars Program. Furthermore, the system will be used in laboratory experiments that will be conducted by chemistry majors in an advanced laboratory course and in a short laboratory course conducted by high school teachers who participate in the NSF-funded EnLIST program of the Math and Science Partnerships. Finally, the system will create a capability for synthetic chemists within the High Throughput Facility at Illinois, which has been established as an open facility for members of nearby undergraduate institutions.

Project Report

The purchase of the ChemSpeed High Throughput Experimentation Instrument enabled by this grant has enabled the accelerated development of new chemical processes that could greatly facilitate the synthesis of high value added products for the pharmaceutical, agricultural and fine chemical industires. Still now, in the 21st century, the vast majority of catalyst discovery and optimization endeavors employ traditional trial an error processes. Although empiricism will always have its place, the extent in catalysis research seems disproportionate with other advances in chemistry. Accordingly, great potential exists for Quantitative Structure Activity Relationship (QSAR) modeling to impact catalysis in general and asymmetric catalysis in particular. The importance and potential of asymmetric catalytic reactions together with the pervasive empiricism that characterizes the field provide compelling motivation for the devopment of high throughput experimentation. The program of research to achieve this goal takes a conceptual leap from empirically driven discovery of catalysts to the accelerated discovery power of Diversity Oriented Synthesis (DOS). The success of DOS for the discovery of small molecule ligands for biological targets has been demonstrated. Although the libraries of small molecules needed for this project will be of much more modest size, the concepts are the same, namely, to use flexible, but predictable chemical synthesis to generate an ensemble of molecules that occupy a region of chemical space for the purposes of discovering fundamental structure-reactivity/selectivity principles. The ChemSpeed system purchased with this grant is one of the two pillars of the program to develop a new paradigm for accelerated discovery and optimization of catalytic chemical processes that will enhance the entire chemical synthesis enterprise.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Carlos Murillo
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
United States
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