COSAM News Articles 2018 October Inside COSAM Labs – Ming Chen – Organic Monomers and Mirror Images

Inside COSAM Labs – Ming Chen – Organic Monomers and Mirror Images

Published: 10/25/2018

By: Caroline Ezell

Dr. Ming Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), has an obvious passion for research. His main focus is on synthetic organic chemistry, particularly looking at areas of asymmetric catalysis. Dr. Chen works with two graduate students and one post-doctoral fellow to study chiral, non-racemic reagents. His small lab environment creates close relationships and the ability for the students to learn from each other’s experiences and promotes in-lab collaborations.       

In his lab, Dr. Chen is working on the synthesis of chiral, non-racemic molecules, which are molecules that do not overlap with their mirror images – much like our right and left hands. Despite being composed of the same elements and with the same connection of atoms, in many cases, the different enantiomers (mirror images) often have very different functions, particularly in medicinal applications. For example, while one molecule is a painkiller, the opposite enantiomer (mirror image) could be toxic to the liver. Therefore, production of the correct enantiomer of a chiral molecule is critical in the pharmaceutical industry.  

Using a chiral catalyst under different conditions, Dr. Chen and his team are able to create either enantiomeric forms of many important molecules. Their work helps to develop new tools and provide useful intermediates that will benefit researchers in many other scientific fields. The agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries are two key examples of areas that could potentially utilize the methods developed in the Chen laboratory to develop of new pesticides or medicines. 

Dr. Chen said that he believes a passion and love for the subject matter is a great benefit for research.  He added that it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to be a researcher but it is always worth it.

“You learn something new, something surprising and unexpected,” Chen explains. “The research leads to new opportunities and new areas to study.”

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