Our research program uses inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biological chemistry to address important metal-mediated processes with energy, biological, and medical relevance. An interdisciplinary, problem-based approach will be employed for the synthesis and characterization of new organic and inorganic compounds, with the ultimate goal to address unsolved problems with broad implications to our society. 

Three main research areas will be pursued that are expected to attract students and postdocs with different research interests and to provide them with a broad knowledge base applicable in most chemistry careers.

1) Catalysis of Energy-related Processes

   The global energy consumption is expected to at least double in the next fifty years and development of efficient chemical transformations for efficient fossil fuel utilization and energy production from renewable sources will be greatly needed. Methane – the main constituent of natural gas, is found in large quantities on earth and could become a significant source of energy as petroleum reserves diminish. The conversion of methane into liquid fuels (e.g., higher alkanes) would allow for a more efficient use of natural gas reserves as an inexpensive energy resource. In this regard, we are interesting in the development of novel catalysts for the oxidative oligomerization of methane using green oxidants such as O2 that should have a major impact on our society and the environment. In addition, we are also interested in developing catalytic systems for CO2reduction, which would constitute an important step in employing CO2 as a renewable source for the generation of liquid fuels and thus positively impact the global carbon balance. 

    We have recently synthesized and characterized the first mononuclear organometallic Pd(III) complexes that undergo C–C bond formation reactions (J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010132, 7303). Particularly remarkable is the observation for the first time of ethane formation from a monomethyl Pd complex. Such transformation has direct implications into catalyst development for oxidative oligomerization of methane in particular and oxidatively-induced Pd-catalyzed C–C bond formation reactions in general.

       We have also reported that the simple tridentate ligands can stabilize both dinuclear PdIII and mononuclear PdIV complexes upon sequential one-electron oxidations of mononuclear PdII precursors Interestingly, these PdII and PdIII complexes are active catalysts for the Kharasch radical addition of polyhaloalkanes to alkenes (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 201150, 5532). These results support our hypothesis that PdIII complexes are more common than previously anticipated and can play important roles in various Pd-catalyzed reactions. Current research efforts are aimed at judiciously designing ligand systems that can support Pd and other metal complexes in various oxidation states and ultimately act as catalysts for a range of C-H activation, C-C and C-heteroatom bond formation, and small molecule activation reactions.

    Another approach for the production of carbon-neutral energy production is to use sunlight, the largest exploitable renewable energy resource. In this context, there is a large interest in developing molecular systems that can capture solar energy and used it to produce oxygen and hydrogen from water. In this context, we are intersted in the design, synthesis, and characterization of polymetallic complexes as potential catalysts for water oxidation. If successful, the developed catalysts capable of water oxidation can potentially be used in tandem with photovoltaic cells to construct artificial photosynthetic centers.

2) Non-Heme Iron Enzymes.

    Non-heme iron enzymes catalyze a wide range of oxidation and oxygenation reactions that have environmental, pharmaceutical, and medical significance. These enzymes, although exhibit a similar overall fold, exhibit different substrate specificity. This project aims to design and synthesize specific inhibitors of O2-activating non-heme iron enzymes by taking advantage of the enzyme’s substrate specificity. While the proposed approach is applicable to any metalloenzyme, of particular interest are histone demethylases, a new class of enzymes that play an important role in regulating transcription and epigenetic inheritance. The developed inhibitors could be used as tools for studying the role of histone demethylases in cell function and development. Insights into the specificity of these enzymes will provide opportunities to advance therapeutics related to stem cell technology and cancer treatment.

3) Beta-Amyloid Peptides in Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disease. Presently around five million people are diagnosed with AD in the US and the number is expected to reach fourteen million by 2050. The brains of patients with AD are characterized by the deposition of beta-amyloid (Abeta) peptide plaques, which accumulate unusually high concentrations of copper, iron, and zinc. This project is directed toward the investigation of the interaction of transition metal ions with Abeta peptides and the study of the role of metal ions in amyloid plaque and reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation. Additionally, a novel bifunctional strategy will be used to develop inhibitors and imaging agents of the Abeta peptide aggregation, which could provide improved strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of AD.