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Simplifying manufacture of drugs, plastics earns UH chemist top honor

HOUSTON, March 24, 2008 Simplifying the process for forming compounds that can be used in many everyday products, such as pharmaceuticals and plastics, has earned one University of Houston chemist a prestigious honor.

Olafs Daugulis, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UH, is among 118 outstanding young scientists, mathematicians and economists in the United States and Canada to be named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow for 2008. This distinction is bestowed upon exceptional researchers early in their academic careers. Thirty-five of these fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize since the Sloan Foundation first began these awards in 1955.

Daugulis developed a simplified technique that saves time and labor, produces less waste and reduces costs while making compounds potentially useful for manufacturing pharmaceuticals and plastics. To make such products, chemists begin with natural compounds, such as oil, that have a single bond between carbon and hydrogen atoms. Chemists must then convert this to another type known as a carbon-carbon bond to create the end product. This has involved a number of intervening steps due to the lack of a direct method of conversion. Daugulis research has changed this.

We are taking a carbon-hydrogen bond and converting it directly to a carbon-carbon bond without going through an intermediate step, Daugulis said. This means fewer synthetic steps in getting to what you want to make. Instead of two to five steps, we are doing it in one.

Carbon-carbon bonding is widely used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, but Daugulis is one of only a few scientists using direct carbon-hydrogen to carbon-carbon bonding. His method incorporates a metallic complex composed of palladium, and most recently copper, as a catalyst.

While Daugulis modesty keeps him from assuming there is a Nobel Prize in his future, one Nobel laureate, Harvard University chemist Elias J. Corey, has drawn on Daugulis research in his own work.

This years fellows include three chemists from Texas, with 64 colleges and universities represented in all among the winners. Daugulis plans to hire a graduate student with the two-year, $50,000 grant that the fellowship brings.

Daugulis has published 13 articles since joining the UH faculty in 2003. He earned his engineering degree from Riga Technical University in his native Latvia in 1991 and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1999. He worked as postdoctoral associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2000-2003.


Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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