Grant Supports Synthetic Organic Chemistry Research

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Beautiful, good, green and clever. For Harvey Mudd College chemistry professor David Vosburg, those adjectives describe the organic syntheses he and his students strive to perform. A grant from Organic Synthesis Inc. will support Vosburg Lab endeavors this summer, as the group continues research to develop a greener way to acylate alcohols and thiols.

This is the third time Vosburg has received a grant from Organic Synthesis. “The current project follows up on work by Nate Luis ’23 and Kasey Chung ’25 that was published last year in Organic Letters,” says Vosburg. “Kasey, Sydney Neibert ’24 and Johnson Ho ’27 have been expanding their method to now form C–C bonds (making ketones), which is much harder than our previous work. I’m amazed that it works at all!”

In summer 2021, the grant supported the work of Kelvin Lee ’22 and Vosburg, who used eco-friendly, multicomponent reactions to convert three or four separate chemicals into a single, more complex molecule in one step. They tested the cascade reactions with and without catalysts to construct new compounds that were structurally related to pharmaceutically relevant triazolobenzodiazepines.

“We made lots of new compounds on that project,” Vosburg says, “resulting in poster presentations at the spring 2022 national American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting and also at the 2022 National Organic Symposium. We are currently working on publishing a journal article on this work.” Lee is now a chemistry PhD student at UC San Diego.

In summer 2023, the Organic Synthesis grant supported Eleanor Bentley ’23 as she pursued similar work that was presented at a national ACS meeting and is now also being prepared for publication. An enthusiastic advocate for advanced chemistry at the undergraduate level, Vosburg says he is honored to receive the Organic Synthesis support for a third time, and he was excited to share his students’ achievements in organic synthesis when he spoke at the fall 2023 national ACS meeting.

“This funding support from Organic Syntheses reflects the high quality of work Harvey Mudd undergraduates are able to achieve on important research problems and also their strong track record of post-graduation success in chemistry,” he says.