|By Susan Hammons
Natural Sciences and Mathematics Communications
A University of Houston chemist who is simplifying the process for forming compounds used in many everyday products has received an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship that recognizes exceptional researchers early in their academic careers.
Olafs Daugulis, assistant professor of chemistry, is among 118 outstanding young scientists, mathematicians and economists in the United States and Canada to be named a Sloan Research Fellow for 2008.
Since the Sloan Foundation began the awards in 1955, 35 of the fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. Daugulis isn’t certain that this level of recognition is in his future. But one Nobel laureate, Harvard University chemist Elias J. Corey, has drawn on Daugulis’ research in his own work.
To make products such as pharmaceuticals or plastics, chemists begin with natural compounds – oil, for example. These natural compounds have a carbon-hydrogen bond, a single bond between carbon and hydrogen atoms. To arrive at the end product, chemists must convert this bond to another type known as a carbon-carbon bond. Currently, that involves intervening steps because they lack a direct method of conversion.
Daugulis has developed a direct method, which saves time and manpower, produces less waste and reduces costs.
“We are taking a carbon-hydrogen bond and converting it directly to a carbon-carbon bond without going through an intermediate step,” Daugulis said. “This means fewer synthetic steps in getting to what you want to make. Instead of two to five steps, we are doing it in one.”