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Blockchain: A Solution for Information Overload in the Fight Against COVID-19

GISAID, a public-private partnership database, collects genome sequences related to influenza and most recently COVID-19.1 As of June 1, 2022, more than 11 million genome sequences have been submitted to It by more than 200 countries, proving that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has become a worldwide effort.

Having all this information freely available has allowed for the production of innovative vaccines and viral drugs, but could all this information be too much? Pietro Cozzini and Federica Agosta, professors at the University of Parma, think it might be. “While it is a great idea to collect all the data related to COVID-19 in a unique repository, the problem is that with such huge amounts of data, we are not able to check its quality,” says Cozzini.


Federica Agosta Molecular Modelling Lab, Food & Drug Department, University of Parma, Parco Area delle Scienze, 17/A, 43124 Parma, Italy


Pietro Cozzini Molecular Modelling Lab, Food & Drug Department, University of Parma, Parco Area delle Scienze, 17/A, 43124 Parma, Italy

The key to fighting viral infections is identifying their DNA and using it to outsmart new variants. The mRNA vaccines that have become essential in the fight against COVID-19 can be easily modified. When the DNA for a new variant is identified, the mRNA can be re-engineered to respond to it. “The problem is that the quality of data is not the same from all nations,” says Cozzini. For example, not all the sequences uploaded for the same virus are the same length, some range in size from under 100 amino acids to more than 50,000. This has led to issues down the line in identifying mutations.

Cozzini and Agosta suggest that Blockchain might be a solution to this problem.2 Blockchain, an electronic database of information that is transparent and unchangeable, uses a set of rules that allow a computer to check data quality. Most frequently associated with financial databases, Blockchain has also found utility in the pharmaceutical3 and agricultural fields,4 tracking food and chemicals through the supply chain.

Blockchain screens for data quality based on a set of parameters, and if the data pass, they become permanently available for viewing. So how is this different from the GISAID database as it is currently used? The answer is in the rules that would be set and that must be adhered to add to the database. All national health organizations would have to input their data in the same way and in the same format. “If the data isn’t the same, then it is difficult to do a decent analysis of the distribution of the variants,” says Agosta. Currently, Cozzini and Agosta are working with scientists from health organizations around the world to help draft the rules that would create a COVID-19 Blockchain.

Blockchain technology is here to stay and its adoption across industries, from the pharmaceutical industry and agriculture to artwork and video games, means constant improvement. In the fight to stay ahead of COVID-19 mutations, Blockchain may soon be one more weapon in the arsenal.


(1) GISAID – Initiative. https://www.gisaid.org/ (accessed 2022-06-02).

(2) Cozzini, P.; Agosta, F.; Dolcetti, G.; Righi, G. How a Blockchain Approach Can Improve Data Reliability in the COVID-19 Pandemic. ACS Med. Chem. Lett. 2022, 13 (4), 517–519. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsmedchemlett.2c00077.

(3) How to Use Blockchain in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Intellectsoft Blog, 2021.

(4) Bank, M.S.; Duarte, C.M.; Sonne, C. Intergovernmental Panel on Blue Foods in Support of Sustainable Development and Nutritional Security. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2022, 56 (9), 5302–5305. 

Low-Cost Water Filters with Built-in Lead Indicator

The Spring 2022 National American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting held in San Diego, California, was a hybrid meeting that featured a wide range of science topics. The offerings showcased the vast diversity of the chemical sciences and the increasingly integrated nature of the projects. This piece focusses on the a filtration device that can detect lead in drinking water. 

Inspired by media coverage of the water contamination in Michigan, high school teacher Rebecca Bushway challenged her Advanced Topics in Chemistry class to design and develop a filtration device that would indicate when water was contaminated with lead. Using the displacement reaction between calcium phosphate and lead ions to trap the lead and another reaction between potassium iodide and lead ions as a color indicator, her class designed and developed a 3D-printed water filter that attaches to most water faucets.

In the first reaction, the lead replaces the calcium to form a highly insoluble solid, and when the filter can no longer absorb lead, the semipermeable membrane containing the potassium iodide turns bright yellow. Her team 3D printed the water filter and incorporated physics, engineering, marketing, art, and social justice in this highly interdisciplinary project. According to Bushway, “The device costs less than a $1 to make,” but the experience of helping someone with science is priceless.

News briefing from the meeting


Video media briefing:

Related articles on this topic from ACS Publications

Assembling and Using a Simple, Low-Cost, Vacuum Filtration Apparatus That Operates without Electricity or Running Water
Fengxiu Zhang, Yiwei Hu, Yaling Jia, Yonghua Lu, and Guangxian Zhang
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00997

A Portable, Low-Cost, LED Fluorimeter for Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate Chemistry Labs
Benjamin T. Wigton, Balwant S. Chohan, Cole McDonald, Matt Johnson, Doug Schunk, Rod Kreuter, and Dan Sykes
DOI: 10.1021/ed200090r

An Environmentally Friendly, Cost-Effective Determination of Lead in Environmental Samples Using Anodic Stripping Voltammetry
Michael J. Goldcamp, Melinda N. Underwood, Joshua L. Cloud, Sean Harshman, and Kevin Ashley
DOI: 10.1021/ed085p976

Low-Cost 3D-Printed Polarimeter
Paweł Bernard and James D. Mendez
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b01083

Ruchi Anand’s Personal Story of Discovery

Professor Ruchi Anand leads a research group in the Chemistry Department of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of ACS Sensors. Her group’s research focuses on antibiotic resistance and biosensing applications.

“Currently our labs choose protein structure as the central theme and using that we try to understand molecular mechanisms,” she said. “And we have taken up a couple of directions, but both the directions we have taken are of societal benefit.”

In biosensing, she has developed enzymes that are stable at room temperature and can specifically detect aromatic pollutants that are major xenobiotics, causing water pollution. She collaborates with chemical engineers to make the device. “The other very, very major direction of our lab is studying antibiotic resistance. Here we either look at enzymes which are new therapeutics. And see if we can come up with strategies to develop new drugs. And in the second approach, we look at the origin of resistance itself.”

From an early age, she was very interested in the stories of women scientists. She liked how Marie Curie’s husband left his own research to assist his wife with her work. Her father was a chemical engineer who worked on green lubricants for cars, and she would sometimes go to the lab with him. That’s where her interest in science began, though it took time to find the area of study that was right for her.

One of her favorite books is “The Microbe Hunters” by Paul de Kruif. But Anand decided she did not want to be a doctor, “because I’m not very good at cutting things,” she said. She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. In grad school at Cornell, she had an opportunity to get more into biology and took biophysics. “I was intrigued by protein folding and protein structure.”

ACS has been her first choice for publishing, and her first paper was published in Biochemistry. She really likes that the editors are all active researchers, so they can make good choices for peer review. Her first submission to Biochemistry was rejected, but they gave reasons why it was rejected, and she used their ideas to improve her paper and following the leads she published two Biochemistry articles on the topic.

Read selected research by Professor Ruchi Anand

Evaluation of the Antiviral Potential of Halogenated Dihydrorugosaflavonoids and Molecular Modeling with nsP3 Protein of Chikungunya Virus (CHIKV)
ACS Omega 2019, 4, 23, 20335-20345
DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.9b02900F

Compositional Tailoring for Realizing High Thermoelectric Performance in Hafnium-Free n-Type ZrNiSn Half-Heusler Alloys
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2019, 11, 51, 47830-47836
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b12599

A Novel Determinant of PSMD9 PDZ Binding Guides the Evolution of the First Generation of Super Binding Peptides
Biochemistry 2019, 58, 32, 3422-3433
DOI: 10.1021/acs.biochem.9b00308

Design of Protein-Based Biosensors for Selective Detection of Benzene Groups of Pollutants
ACS Sensors 2018, 3, 9, 1632-1638
DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.8b00190

Design of Ultrasensitive Protein Biosensor Strips for Selective Detection of Aromatic Contaminants in Environmental Wastewater
Analytical Chemistry 2018, 90, 15, 8960-8968
DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b01130

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Learn About the History of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements

In 2019, marks the 150th anniversary of the most beloved icon in chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. To honor this milestone, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed 2019 “The United Nations International Year of The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements” (IYPT 2019). The American Chemical Society (ACS), the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), and scientific societies around the world will all be celebrating with special events, contests, and more.

Celebrate this landmark anniversary by learning about key years in the history of the periodic table, drawn from the official ACS 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) 12-Month Calendar.


Antoine Lavoisier, now known as the ‘father of modern chemistry,’ publishes a list of 33 elements or “simple substances,” as he calls them. Although his list includes things such as heat and light, it is a major departure from previous thinking about elements. For Lavoisier, an element represents the final stage of chemical decomposition. This view moves away from earlier metaphysical notions about the nature of elements and emphasizes what can be observed and measured.


John Dalton, a Manchester schoolteacher and a Quaker, revives the atomic theory of ancient Greek philosophers while making it quantitative. Dalton also provides a new list of elements but his includes the relative weights of atoms of each element compared with an atom of hydrogen, which is assigned a weight of one unit. This development provides a basis from which other chemists can begin to discern relationships between different elements and is an essential step in the development of the periodic table.


Wolfgang Döbereiner, a chemist working in Jena, Germany, draws on John Dalton’s atomic weights to discover triads, which are relationships among several groups of three elements whereby one of the three elements is the average of the two others in two respects. For example, a sodium atom has about the same weight as the averaged weights of lithium and potassium. Also, sodium’s chemical reactivity is the average of lithium and potassium. Triads thus hint at mathematical relationships between different elements, representing a foreshadowing of the discovery of chemical periodicity.


Over a period of about five years, multiple scientists independently develop significant precursors to the periodic table. The first is French geologist Alexandre-Emile Béguyer De Chancourtois, who arranges the elements in a line in order of increasing atomic weight. This line is then arranged in a helical fashion around a metal cylinder so that similar elements fall along vertical lines drawn along the length of the cylinder. Soon after, John Alexander Reina Newlands and William Odling, working independently in England, publish two-dimensional periodic tables, as does Gustavus Heinrichs, a Danish exile working in the United States. None of these systems receive much credit for a variety of reasons both scientific and sociological.


Julius Lothar Meyer, a German chemist, publishes a number of periodic tables that represent the discovery of a fully mature table system. However, although he successfully accommodates most of the more than 60 then-known elements, Lothar Meyer fails to predict any new or missing elements, with one exception. He made a tentative prediction for the existence of a single element that he believed would have an atomic weight of 44.55. This element would eventually be discovered in Sweden and named scandium. Its weight when first measured was 44.6.


Dmitri Mendeleev, a Siberian by birth, working in St. Petersburg, Russia, publishes his first of many periodic tables and predicts the existence of four new elements that he provisionally names eka-aluminum, eka-silicon, eka-boron, and eka-manganese. Within fifteen years, the first three of these elements are discovered by other chemists and are called respectively gallium, scandium, and germanium, thus serving to solidify Mendeleev’s reputation as the leading discoverer of the periodic table. The fourth of his initial predictions is synthesized in 1937 and named technetium.


Chemical Reviews. March 8, 2017. Volume 117, Issue 5. Halogen chemistry plays a central role in the manufacture of various chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and polymers, and has potential applications in natural-gas upgrading. Having a closed halogen loop allows these processes to operate efficiently and sustainably. To this end, the design of suitable heterogeneous catalysts is of key importance.


In three successive years, X-rays, radioactivity, and the electron are discovered, all of which have a profound impact on the study of the elements, the periodic table, and chemistry in general. X-rays lead to an experimental method to precisely identify each element. The discoveries of radioactivity and the electron show atoms are not indivisible as Dalton had supposed, but have a sub-structure. In 1900, Max Planck introduced his quantum of action. These discoveries together would soon explain why elements fall into groups on the periodic table.


In 1913, Niels Bohr, working in Copenhagen, publishes the first explanation of why certain elements fall into particular groups in the periodic table. This feature arises because of the analogous electron arrangements in concentric shells around the nucleus of an atom. Between 1913 and 1914, Henry Moseley, in Manchester and later Oxford, establishes experimentally that elements are more accurately ordered according to an ordinal number, subsequently named “atomic number,” than if ordered according to atomic weight, as had been the custom up to this point. Moseley’s method also provides the means to uniquely identify any particular element, as well as indicating the number of elements that remained to be discovered between the naturally occurring elements from hydrogen (Z = 1) and uranium (Z = 92).


The first artificially produced element is discovered in Palermo, Sicily by Emilio Segrè and coworkers. This element had been synthesized in a particle accelerator at the University of California, Berkeley, where Segrè had worked, before being sent to Italy for analysis. This was to be the first of what are now about 30 artificially produced elements, including promethium (Z = 61) and astatine (Z = 85), in addition to 26 transuranic elements. The most recent discoveries of such elements are nihonium (Z = 103), moscovium (Z = 105), tennessine (Z = 117), and oganesson (Z = 118).


The first transuranic element, synthesized at the University of California, Berkeley by Edwin Mattison McMillan and Philip Hauge Abelson, is neptunium. This is followed by the synthesis of plutonium by Glenn T. Seaborg in 1941 in the same laboratory. Seaborg would contribute to the synthesis of a total of 10 such transuranic elements, including element 106, which is named seaborgium in his honor. He would also propose a modification to the periodic table that features the actinides as part of the f-block rather than as d-block elements. Similar arrangements were independently proposed earlier by Alfred Werner and Charles Janet.


The periodic table is by no means a closed subject. Although it now stands complete for the first time since its discovery, attempts to synthesize elements 119 and 120 are being actively pursued. If discovered, these elements would form the beginning of a new eighth period. In addition, debate continues over the placement of several elements, including thecomposition of group 3, and over whether there is an optimal form of the periodic table. A good candidate to fill this role might be Charles Janet’s left-step table, which displays greater regularity than the conventional table, as well as being more in keeping with the presumed quantum mechanical foundations of the periodic system.

Learn more about the official ACS 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) 12-Month Calendar.

Welcome to the New ACS Axial

ACS Axial launched three years ago, dedicated to connecting chemists with all the best news, research, and resources produced by ACS Publications. Since then the blog has published more than 1,300 articles, delving into every discipline of chemistry and every facet of the ACS’ mission of improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.

Since its debut in September of 2015, ACS Axial has become a hub for chemists around the world who connect with the site through the homepage, social media, and the blog’s monthly email newsletter. But as the site grew, it became clear that it needed to evolve to better serve the community it had built. Today, the site is relaunching with a new look and feel, new features, and a new community-first focus.

Here are three ways the site is changing to better suit your needs.

  • A new focus on the chemistry community: Did you know that anyone can write a guest post on ACS Axial? It’s true! Check out the site’s author guidelines and discover how you can become an ACS Axial contributor and share your perspective on your research, chemist culture, issues facing the profession and more!
  • A clean, light design built for mobile: A lot of ACS Axial readers browse the site on their phones. Maybe you did a quick web search for a question about getting started as a reviewer. Maybe you saw a link on Twitter about tips for improving your lab productivity. Maybe you just got the latest ACS Axial email newsletter and want to dive into a compendium of the most read recent research. Mobile readers deserve the best possible reading experience. The new ACS Axial delivers a best-in-class mobile experience, with clean displays, shorter page load times and a simpler user interface.
  • A better navigation experience: Whether you’re looking for career advice, research in your field, or news on your favorite ACS journal, it’s important that you be able to find what you need – and discover more great stories along the way. That’s why the site’s search function has been rebuilt to give you more ways to search and filter through all the ACS Axial stories to find the ones that are most relevant to your needs. The new site also makes it easier to sign up for the ACS Axial Newsletter, which gives you a monthly dose of great ACS stories.

Browse the new ACS Axial and share your thoughts on the redesign at axial@acs.org

Cristina Nevado’s Personal Story of Discovery

Professor Cristina Nevado has a passion for art. Like an artist, she’s always found inspiration in seeking to understand the world around her. Now that curiosity is improving our understanding of organometallic reactions.

Professor Nevado is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Zurich. She is also a Senior Editor for ACS Central Science.

While growing up in Spain, Professor Nevado had a natural curiosity. “This is part of the motivation to become a scientist, to be able to understand what is going on in the background to make things work.” Her interest in science grew after taking chemistry and physics classes from a teacher who had an infectious passion for the subjects.  “I remember sitting in those classes and thinking, wow, it cannot get any better than this.”

After receiving her Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the Autónoma University of Madrid with a special focus on how metals catalyze and improve reactions, she worked on a completely different area—natural product synthesis—for her post-doc at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Germany. And during her time as both a grad student and post-doc, she had exposure to using computational tools in research.

This background proved to be inspirational to her as she started her independent research as a professor at the University of Zurich. Her lab conducts research in three primary areas. First, her group seeks to develop new processes for the construction of C-C and C-X bonds based on late-transition-metal catalysis. Second, they work to streamline the synthesis of complex natural products by implementing these new processes. A final focus is on molecular-level computational and experimental studies of relevant biological processes influenced by advanced organic molecules such as cancer progression, cancer metastasis, and cell motility.

The need to collaborate with other scientists was an aspect of being a scientist that greatly appealed to Professor Nevado.

“I have from the very beginning tried to combine our synthetic program with computational tools both in the area of methodology development, to understand reaction mechanisms, but also in the area of medicinal chemistry, we take advantage of tools to design actual molecules to improve our design and also to speed up our design. So I think this interface between synthesis and computation is one of those beautiful examples in which you see that, these days, collaborations are more needed than ever.”

Read selected research by Professor Cristina Nevado

Nickel-Catalyzed Reductive Dicarbofunctionalization of Alkenes
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017,139 (20), pp 6835–6838
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b03195


Pd-Catalyzed Stereoselective Carboperfluoroalkylation of Alkynes
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015,137 (36), pp 11610–11613
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b07432


Gold-Catalyzed Ethynylation of Arenes
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010, 132 (5), pp 1512–1513
DOI: 10.1021/ja909726h


Chemical Space Expansion of Bromodomain Ligands Guided by in Silico Virtual Couplings (AutoCouple)
ACS Cent. Sci., (2018), 4, 180–188
DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.7b00401


Evidence for Direct Transmetalation of AuIII-F with Boronic Acids
J. Am. Chem. Soc. (2016), 138, 13790-13793
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b07763

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Peidong Yang’s Personal Story of Discovery

Peidong Yang learned early in his career that being able to think about a problem from more than one vantage point can yield surprising results. Now his interdisciplinary mindset could open new doors in artificial photosynthesis.

Yang is the S.K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at  University of California, Berkeley. He is also the Founding Dean at the School of Physical Science & Technology at ShanghaiTech University. He is an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“My interest in science, most specifically in chemistry, I would say really started during my undergraduate years,” said Yang. “I graduated from the University of Science & Technology in China, which is located in Hefei, China. I got into the research lab in my second year over there.”

Early experiences in the lab in China, and later at Harvard University in the lab of his Ph.D. advisor Charles M. Lieber, gave Yang an appreciation for interdisciplinary research with practical applications.

At University of California, Berkeley, his research background led him to develop a revolutionary artificial photosynthesis solution that combines the light-capturing power of semiconductor nanowires with the natural C02 processing abilities of a biological catalyst.

“Of course, back then,” Yang said. “When I would discuss this idea with my colleagues, sometimes they would laugh at me because this is so strange.”

The potential for this unique artificial photosynthesis solution could go beyond reducing CO2 levels on Earth. NASA is funding a research center to explore using that technology to bring oxygen to Mars. “If we are going to send crewmembers to Mars, they need oxygen, they need energy.”

Yang’s work shows that great things can happen when you’re willing to look at a problem from an interdisciplinary perspective. Now the vision and leadership he’s shown at University of California, Berkeley, is also having an impact at ShanghaiTech University, where he is assisting in setting up the School of Physical Science & Technology. His approach is to recruit faculty from diverse areas of science backgrounds and have them work together.

“I think the setting up of this specific university is really trying to encourage the young generation of scientists to be independent and to think freely in terms of what scientific problem to attack. And this is the spirit within this university.”

Read Selected Research from Professor Peidong Yang:

Nanowire–Bacteria Hybrids for Unassisted Solar Carbon Dioxide Fixation to Value-Added Chemicals
Nano Lett., 2015, 15 (5), pp 3634–3639
DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b01254

Cysteine–Cystine Photoregeneration for Oxygenic Photosynthesis of Acetic Acid from CO2 by a Tandem Inorganic–Biological Hybrid System
Nano Lett., 2016, 16 (9), pp 5883–5887
DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b02740

Cyborgian Material Design for Solar Fuel Production: The Emerging Photosynthetic Biohybrid Systems
Acc. Chem. Res., 2017, 50 (3), pp 476–481
DOI: 10.1021/acs.accounts.6b00483

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Staff Sheehan’s Personal Story of Discovery

These days, Dr. Staff Sheehan spends more time on the road than in the lab. But his innovations in solar energy as president of Catalytic Innovations, and chief technology officer of The Air Company, just might help save the planet.

Sheehan tried his hand at several different fields before discovering a path that worked for him. He started a software company as a teenager but soon realized he preferred more physical, hands-on work. While in school, he worked as an emergency medical technician, which led him to consider a career in medicine, before he fell in love with lab work during a chemistry class.

“I switched to pre-med and started taking pre-med classes on top of that and then I eventually stumbled my way into chemistry. And stumbled is the best verb to use for that.”

Yet academic work was never a passion for Sheehan, who always preferred to learn by doing. He began thinking that it would be interesting to use his chemistry knowledge in a small business context. He thought back to his first small business, and what he’d learned about the enormous energy needs of computer server farms. Here was an exciting, persistent problem that would require new innovations to solve. Energy was a perfect challenge for someone with Sheehan’s preference for hands-on science focused on solving practical problems.

His company, Catalytic Innovations, developed a way to turn water and CO2 into alcohols such as methanols, propanols, ethanols using solar energy. If he’s successful, he won’t just have a successful business; he’ll have created a sustainable business model for renewable energy that could help the entire planet. “The goal of my company is to make a solar fuels reactor that is economically viable,” he said. “And as a part of that, we’ve taken these component technologies and we’ve put them into all sorts of different industries.”

Now he’s traveling the world, making connections and deals that will help his company grow. It’s hard work, but Sheehan said that sense of ownership is exactly why he started a company in the first place. “If I were to work for someone else to do that, then they would have to tell me when I couldn’t commercialize a product and when I could. So I’d prefer to be able to have the control over what I’m doing that a start-up gives me,” he said.

“A lot of chemical companies are trying to be sustainable, but I think they’re not necessarily taking the right approaches and I think that there’s a better way to do things. And so that’s one of the reasons that I have a start-up is because I want to be able to do things in a way where I’m not controlled by a large organization or board of directors that has their own agenda.”

Read Selected Research from Dr. Staff Sheehan:

Selective Electrochemical Oxidation of Lactic Acid Using Iridium-Based Catalysts
Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 2017, 56 (13), pp 3560–3567
DOI: 10.1021/acs.iecr.6b05073

Performance Enhancement for Electrolytic Systems through the Application of a Cobalt-based Heterogeneous Water Oxidation Catalyst
ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2015, 3 (6), pp 1234–1240
DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.5b00229

Electrochemical Activation of Cp* Iridium Complexes for Electrode-Driven Water-Oxidation Catalysis
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2014, 136 (39), pp 13826–13834
DOI: 10.1021/ja5068299

Plasmonic Enhancement of Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells Using Core–Shell–Shell Nanostructures
J. Phys. Chem. C, 2013, 117 (2), pp 927–934
DOI: 10.1021/jp311881k

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Vivian Yam’s Personal Story of Discovery

Power for lighting makes up almost one-fifth of global energy use; Professor Vivian Yam says that one way to change that will be to make lighting more efficient.

Yam is the Philip Wong Wilson Wong Professor in Chemistry and Energy at The University of Hong Kong and an Associate Editor of Inorganic Chemistry. Her interest in chemistry dates back to childhood, drawing inspiration from the natural world to address complex technological challenges like more efficient lighting.

Yam’s work focuses on excited state dynamics and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) for use in solid-state lighting and full-color displays. One way to achieve that efficiency is by blending red, green and blue light or yellow and blue light to make the white light we use each day. But that comes with challenges. Using OLEDs to produce white light or display requires having control over the purity of the color, something by tuning the HOMO-LUMO energy gap of a molecule. Attaining that control requires mastery over the molecular structure, molecular conformation and how molecules are packed together, as well as an understanding of how their behavior changes when excited.

“We have to really understand this excited state dynamics, try to harness the excited state, and then how we can sort of improve on this in performance and make a very robust, as well as highly efficient emitters for OLEDs,” she said.

A greater understanding of excited states could have an impact outside of lighting and display as well; for example in solar energy harvesting and solar fuels. Learning how molecules communicate electronically, orientate themselves, pack themselves, and align themselves in an orderly manner could aid in charge transport and in developing organic resistive computer memory, which could significantly increase digital data storage capacity. This kind of broad application of knowledge has long been a passion of hers.

“I was telling my students that you should not only focus on your narrow field of research, you should read very widely. You need to be wide-ranging in your knowledge to solve the very important scientific problems,” she said.

“If you think of Leonardo DaVinci, I mean he was good at everything: good at art, engineering, science, I mean everything.”

“For students, you need the fundamentals. You really need a very strong foundation of understanding principles, the concepts, the fundamentals. From there on, it’s a life-long learning process because technology has been moving so fast.”

Read Selected Research from Professor Vivian Yam:

Supramolecular Self-Assembly of Amphiphilic Anionic Platinum(II) Complexes: A Correlation between Spectroscopic and Morphological Properties
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2011, 133 (31), pp 12136–12143
DOI: 10.1021/ja203920w

A Phosphole Oxide-Containing Organogold(III) Complex for Solution-Processable Resistive Memory Devices with Ternary Memory Performances
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138 (20), pp 6368–6371
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b02629

Synthesis of Luminescent Platinum(II) 2,6-Bis(N-dodecylbenzimidazol-2′-yl)pyridine Foldamers and Their Supramolecular Assembly and Metallogel Formation
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139 (25), pp 8639–8645
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b03635

Versatile Design Strategy for Highly Luminescent Vacuum-Evaporable and Solution-Processable Tridentate Gold(III) Complexes with Monoaryl Auxiliary Ligands and Their Applications for Phosphorescent Organic Light Emitting Devices
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139 (27), pp 9341–9349
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b04788

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Shu-Li You’s Personal Story of Discovery

It’s the drug development version of having your cake and eating it too: Imagine being able to efficiently manufacture only the desired enantiomer of a drug.  Professor Shu-Li You of the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry is working on a way to do just that.

You is the Director of State Key Laboratory of Organometallic Chemistry, Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is also an Associate Editor of Organometallics. One focus of his work is on the development of highly efficient catalytic asymmetric dearomatization reactions.

“For this type of reaction we want to convert commercial, readily available, cheap planar compounds without chirality into a 3-dimensional molecule with chirality,” he said. “With our method, we are developing a new strategy with a new catalyst to enable this process from readily available aromatic compounds. And now we can get a pair of 3-dimensional chiral molecules and actually try to eliminate one of the mirror images to get just one of the enantiomers.

“So this kind of compound has a spiro ring formation; it is a polycyclic compound. This is a highly privileged type of molecule in a drug discovery program, so that’s why currently we have a collaboration with several international pharmaceutical companies.”

Professor You has been aware of the power of chemical reactions ever since he was a student in middle school. A teacher showed him what happens when sodium comes in contact with water. The dramatic display left an impression on him that’s never faded.

“I think that’s what really started to get me interested in chemistry,” he said. Recognizing that chemists had the power to change the world around them left an impression on him that’s never faded.

“As an organic chemist we can create things, create things that have never been in the world before,” he said. “We want the discovery we make to benefit the whole community, to benefit the whole society.”

“The challenge is always doing something new. I mention the importance of imagination. We want to think big, we want to think of something useful, that potentially can be applied in industry,” he said.

Read Selected Research from Shu-Li You:

Iridium-Catalyzed Intramolecular Asymmetric Allylic Alkylation of Hydroxyquinolines: Simultaneous Weakening of the Aromaticity of Two Consecutive Aromatic Rings
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140 (8), pp 3114–3119
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.8b00136

Palladium(0)-Catalyzed Intermolecular Asymmetric Allylic Dearomatization of Polycyclic Indoles
Org. Lett., 2018, 20 (3), pp 748–751
DOI: 10.1021/acs.orglett.7b03887

Regio- and Enantioselective Rhodium-Catalyzed Allylic Alkylation of Racemic Allylic Alcohols with 1,3-Diketones
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140 (24), pp 7737–7742
DOI: 10.1021/jacs.8b05126

Cp*RhIII-Catalyzed C–H Amidation of Ferrocenes
Organometallics, 2017, 36 (22), pp 4359–4362
DOI: 10.1021/acs.organomet.7b00691

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