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Scientific Aims

Chemistry of Life and Molecular Medicine

The Chemistry Department’s increased emphasis on biological and medicinal chemistry positions us well to build on its remarkable history of major achievements in the life sciences and to lead in advancing research that will transform human health and medicine. 

Advances in chemistry draw on billions of years of chemical evolution on our planet that have created a chemical library of immense size and diversity, our planet’s chemome. Scientists at Stanford are leading research directed at translating this library, and in so doing creating fundamentally new knowledge about the origins and workings of life, and how molecules, molecular assemblies and pathways contribute to the systems chemistry and biology of living organisms. From the structure and function of molecules within a cell to the interaction of cells within an organism and inter-organismal biochemistry, this research is creating new insights into normal and abnormal biological function, and with that, new strategies, tools, molecules and theories for understanding the origins of life, the chemistry of living systems and the prevention, detection and treatment of diseases.

Stanford scientists are using a vast array of cutting edge technologies to relate chemical structure to biological function, in essence building and advancing the chemical foundation for life science research. These technologies are addressing an amazing range of molecular challenges from the chemical physics of single molecules in living systems to the physics and dynamics of electron transfer and bond rotation, and on to atomistic computational simulations of how biomacromolecules fold, how biological systems assemble and how living systems dynamically respond to their molecular microenvironment. Through these studies, Stanford chemists are opening windows into the molecular world that are changing our sense of the most fundamental processes of biological molecules, cell biology, disease biochemistry, synthetic biology, evolution and life, opening exceptionally promising approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. 

Physical and Materials Sciences, Energy and the Environment

Chemistry enables us to understand our world with molecular level resolution, revealing the fascinating structures and dynamics of atomic and molecular systems. Stanford scientists are developing the experimental tools, methods and theories to precisely control atomic and molecular behavior. Of towering significance, the discipline of chemistry is unique in providing the intellectual foundation for the design and creation of new forms of matter—materials that enable us to “sense” at a molecular level, from single molecules to organismal assemblies, that provide the basis for all energy conversion technologies, and that allow us to monitor and improve our environment, from the air we breathe to the ecosystems of which we are a part.

The development of new spectroscopic techniques—which fundamentally relate to the interaction of light with matter—provides the intellectual framework for energy conversion strategies based on solar energy.  For the past 150 years, energy conversion technologies have largely relied on the combustion of fossil fuels, an inefficient process for converting stored chemical energy that releases vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the environment.  New energy strategies will require new materials, new insights and new ideas for energy storage and conversion to sustain modern economies and the world’s growing population while preserving the environment for future generations. These ideas form the core of many Stanford programs, including the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Global Climate and Energy Project, Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, and SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis. The chemical sciences are among the multidisciplinary tools required for transformational advances.

Chemistry’s role in Materials Science is equally all-encompassing, providing insights into the structural and electronic basis for new materials properties. We devise new synthetic strategies for controlling the composition, structure, and dimensionality of organic and inorganic materials to provide unique functions. These materials, ranging from small molecules to infinite extended solids, catalyze new chemical transformations, sense and respond to the environment, transport and store energy, and define the most basic building blocks upon which the next-generation of clean energy cycles will be built.