University of Rochester

University Chemist Searches for Easier Ways to Form Molecules

July 28, 2011

The Goal is to Help Other Researchers Develop New Compounds

Scientists don't always get the opportunity to test the molecules of their choice. As Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniel Weix points out, "Half of all options are rejected because they're too expensive or take too long to make." Weix hopes to make it easier for researchers to test new chemical compounds by changing the way some molecules are formed.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is making it possible for Weix to carry out his research, thanks to a $1.45 million grant over the next five years.

Weix, who has spent three years doing initial work on catalytic bond formation, focuses on organic halides as the starting materials because they are stable, affordable, and readily available. "Given enough time and money, we can make almost anything, but time and money are not infinite," said Weix. "This chemistry should change that by allowing scientists to make and test more molecules."

One industry that could benefit from Weix's research is pharmaceuticals. "Time and cost are real barriers to discovering new compounds," said Weix. "If it can't be made and tested, then no one knows if it can be used as a drug."

Weix works in the field of cross-coupling, which makes use of transition metals to bring molecules together to form new carbon-carbon bonds. Cross-coupling typically involves the combination of an electrophile—a substance that attracts electrons—with a nucleophile—a substance that donates electrons. But Weix says nucleophiles are "troublesome" because they are generally not commercially available and are air and moisture-sensitive. So Weix and his group are replacing the nucleophile with another electrophile. The challenge, he says, is creating a catalyst that will selectively form a bond between the two unlike electrophiles.