Detroit researcher receives national award

March 21, 2000

Studies chemical reactions lasting just millionths of a second

Chemist Martin E. Newcomb of Dearborn, Mich., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for his efforts to understand ultrafast chemical reactions, such as those that process fats in the body. He will receive the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its 219th national meeting in San Francisco.

"If you understand a reaction, you can control that reaction," declared Newcomb, a professor of chemistry at Wayne State University.

The reactions Newcomb studies use free radicals to attach, clip or convert one molecule into another. "Thirty years ago, researchers thought that radicals in biological processes were limited to damage events," such as aging, Newcomb said. "Now we realize that all DNA, for example, is produced in radical processes."

These compounds form during the fleeting, intermediate steps of radical reactions. Because radicals are unstable, these reactions occur extremely quickly. Typically, the lifetime of a radical reaction is counted in millionths of seconds, explained the physical organic chemist.

Newcomb and his team trace the individual steps of such reactions, analyzing which radical intermediates form and measuring how long each step takes.

One reaction is orchestrated by a type of protein in the liver called cytochrome P450. This enzyme family adds oxygen to, or oxidizes, nearly everything it encounters. It breaks down drugs and fats, makes cancer-causing compounds, and performs a host of other functions.

To solve for the unknowns in the various reaction steps, Newcomb substitutes what he does know: the rates at which molecules he has built, called probes, react with P450. His group uses short bursts of laser light to 'time' the reactions.

"His work has electrified the P450 area," wrote Dennis Curran of the University of Pittsburgh to second the award nomination. "Marty has proposed completely new mechanisms after many years of experiment and debate."

When asked how he ended up in chemistry, Newcomb described himself as "one of those kids who tried to blow up the basement." He added, "Later, as I understood its puzzle-solving aspects, I found it an interesting challenge."

The James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry is sponsored by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society.
-end-
A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society www.acs.org 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

Related Chemistry Articles from Brightsurf:

Searching for the chemistry of life
In the search for the chemical origins of life, researchers have found a possible alternative path for the emergence of the characteristic DNA pattern: According to the experiments, the characteristic DNA base pairs can form by dry heating, without water or other solvents.

Sustainable chemistry at the quantum level
University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor John A. Keith is using new quantum chemistry computing procedures to categorize hypothetical electrocatalysts that are ''too slow'' or ''too expensive'', far more thoroughly and quickly than was considered possible a few years ago.

Can ionic liquids transform chemistry?
Table salt is a commonplace ingredient in the kitchen, but a different kind of salt is at the forefront of chemistry innovation.

Principles for a green chemistry future
A team led by researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently authored a paper featured in Science that outlines how green chemistry is essential for a sustainable future.

Sugar changes the chemistry of your brain
The idea of food addiction is a very controversial topic among scientists.

Reflecting on the year in chemistry
A lot can happen in a year, especially when it comes to science.

Better chemistry through tiny antennae
A research team at The University of Tokyo has developed a new method for actively controlling the breaking of chemical bonds by shining infrared lasers on tiny antennae.

Chemistry in motion
For the first time, researchers have managed to view previously inaccessible details of certain chemical processes.

Researchers enrich silver chemistry
Researchers from Russia and Saudi Arabia have proposed an efficient method for obtaining fundamental data necessary for understanding chemical and physical processes involving substances in the gaseous state.

The chemistry behind kibble (video)
Have you ever thought about how strange it is that dogs eat these dry, weird-smelling bits of food for their entire lives and never get sick of them?

Read More: Chemistry News and Chemistry Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.