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UK Chemistry Professor Wins Prestigious NSF Award

Robert Grossman, a UK chemistry professor, has won a $348,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award for work on his new method of making synthetic organic compounds. The grant will fund Grossman's research and will support two graduate students and two undergraduates to assist him in his work.Computer model of decalin

Grossman recently discovered a rapid and efficient method of assembling a particular class of organic compounds called "decalins." Decalins are organic compounds made up of 10 carbon atoms joined together in two six-membered rings that share one edge, Grossman says. "They look somewhat like two adjacent honeycomb cells, with each corner being one carbon atom."

He explains that when a carbon atom is bound to other atoms such as oxygen or nitrogen, it is "functionalized." "Our method for preparing decalins provides decalins in which many of the carbon atoms are functionalized, so it is easy to do further chemistry on them." His new method gives decalins "handles" that allow them to be further manipulated.

It's important to be able to manipulate these substances because, depending on the arrangement of the 10 carbon atoms of the decalin, various useful compounds can be made. "Maybe the compound can fight cancer, kill bacteria, repel insects from crops, or has some other useful property," Grossman says.

Several important classes of naturally occurring insect repellants have a decalin subunit in them, he adds. "There is a great need for new agrochemicals that have these properties. Our work might eventually lead to new environmentally benign pest repellants."

Grossman says he is pleased by this award because, now, his graduate students can focus full-time on their research, his research program can be much more productive, and UK's profile in the national research community will be enhanced.

Grossman earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge in England before coming to UK.