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Organic Chemistry

Postdoctoral researcher Han Xiao, Professor Carolyn Bertozzi and graduate student Elliot Woods discuss methods to make cancer cells visible to the immune system. (Linda A. Cicero, Stanford News Service)

Postdoctoral researcher Han Xiao, Professor Carolyn Bertozzi and graduate student Elliot Woods discuss methods to make cancer cells visible to the immune system.

Linda A. Cicero, Stanford News Service

Understanding carbon-based substances and developing economic, green strategies to produce useful new molecules, reactions and materials

Stanford chemists are developing more efficient and sustainable chemistries by exploring the structure, properties and reactions of organic compounds and materials. New reagents and catalysts are enabling greener industrial processes. Growing understanding of natural product properties, activities and synthesis are leading to potential new therapeutics, in close collaborations with researchers in the School of Medicine. These cutting-edge efforts build on a strong departmental history in organic synthesis.

Organic Synthesis

Invention of new tools and methods make it possible to create complex molecules from simple starting materials, more rapidly and cost-efficiently. Stanford chemists are developing new methods to synthesize target molecules with potential applications as novel catalysts, antibiotics and antitumor therapies; atomically efficient methods to create new transition-metal-based non-protein catalysts; new atom and group transfer-type reaction processes for natural product synthesis and chemical biology; and novel approaches to the design and synthesis of exotic small and giant molecules for custom properties. Elusive, selective reactions at the boundaries of modern organic synthesis take inspiration from natural products – and answer questions about their properties and activities.

Molecular Design

Stanford chemists are crafted designers of a wide variety of molecules for applications in chemical synthesis, materials science, and biomedicine. Advancements in synthetic capabilities and efficiency allow for freedom of molecular design. Stanford chemists are designing new reactions, catalysts, and reagents for more efficient, selective, and robust chemical transformations; new molecular strategies to develop more effective drugs; new imaging agents, optical reporters, and molecular delivery vehicles to allow integration of biological systems and delivery of therapeutics into cells; new classes of biological probes for the study of cell surface glycans; fluorescent probes of DNA repair enzymes in cells and tissues; and novel classes of unusual molecular and polymeric materials with tailored optical, electronic, thermal, and mechanical properties.

Green Chemistries

Using mechanistic principles to develop new catalytic strategies, Stanford chemists synthesize complex, useful macromolecular architectures, including sustainable polymers, synthetic fuels, and bioactive molecules;  and develop cost-efficient catalysts and chemical reactions that recycle CO2 into fuels and commodity chemicals using renewable energy sources. To understand and reproduce the remarkable specificity and energy efficiency of metalloenzymes, Stanford chemist are studying the mechanism of dioxygen activation by copper-containing enzymes.


Stanford researchers are employing organic methods to explore the roles of cell-surface sugars and glycosylation in health, aging and illness, including cancer; to study and engineer enzymatic assembly lines that catalyze the biosynthesis of antibiotics in bacteria; and to design nucleotides with unusual properties such as fluorescence, enzyme reactivity, or altered shape and bonding ability, as tools to study nucleotide function and potential new probes for cancer diagnosis.

Computer Modeling

Computer studies of target molecules with desirable properties are finding ways to create functionally similar species that require fewer steps to synthesize – a technique called function oriented design and synthesis.

Associated Faculty

Carolyn Bertozzi

Director, ChEM-H, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor, by courtesy, of Radiology and of Chemical and Systems Biology

John Brauman

J.G. Jackson and C.J. Wood Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus

Noah Burns

Assistant Professor of Chemistry

James Collman

George A. and Hilda M. Daubert Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus

Justin Du Bois

Henry Dreyfus Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Chemical and Systems Biology

Matthew Kanan

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy

Chaitan Khosla

Director, ChEM-H, Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor of Chemistry and, by courtesy, of Biochemistry

Eric Kool

The George A. and Hilda M. Daubert Professor in Chemistry

Daniel Stack

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Barry Trost

Job and Gertrud Tamaki Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences

Robert M. Waymouth

Robert Eckles Swain Professor in Chemistry and, by courtesy, of Chemical Engineering

Paul Wender

Francis W. Bergstrom Professor of Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Chemical and Systems Biology

Yan Xia

Assistant Professor of Chemistry