Cambridge researcher receives national award: Found better ways to make drugs, plastics and other products

March 20, 2000

Found better ways to make drugs, plastics and other products

Chemist Stephen L. Buchwald of Newton, Mass., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for developing, analyzing and finding better ways for researchers to make pharmaceutical drugs, plastics and other products. He will receive the American Chemical Society Award in Organometallic Chemistry at the Society's national meeting in San Francisco.

Buchwald, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describes himself as an "organic-organometallic chemist." Advances in his science have applications in fields as diverse as plastics, drug discovery and drug manufacturing.

"What we try to do is invent new chemical transformations, study them to determine how they occur and to improve their efficiency, and then we want to try to apply them," he summarized.

In nominating Buchwald for the award, MIT colleague Gregory Fu wrote, "The breadth of his interests is rare, if not unique."

Buchwald's broadly applicable discoveries include a set of processes used to create a useful but difficult-to-make chemical bond. That wasn't the goal when he started work 11 years ago. "In the beginning, we were trying to make a natural product of interest to cancer research," he said.

For the next several years, his research team developed the process, examined it step by step, fine-tuned its design and studied the chemistry in detail. By then, pharmaceutical companies were calling for advice, as this type of chemistry is particularly useful in research on the central nervous system. It is also important for photocopy toner cartridges as well as for light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

Buchwald said two people helped draw him to a career in chemistry: William Lumbley, his chemistry teacher at Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, and Gary Hieftje, an Indiana University professor who brought 16-year-old Buchwald into his laboratory one summer for student research. "Gary is very dynamic," he explained. "I got to see how chemistry really got done."

The ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry is sponsored by the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation of Freeport, Texas.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society ( publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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