Technology Insights

Staff picks: Top chemistry innovations

Joseph Ferner

Joseph Ferner

University Liaison Officer

Joseph completed his PhD in synthetic organic chemistry in 2019, investigating the synthesis and testing of novel antimicrobial therapeutics. Since graduating, he has been part of the university liaison team here at IN-PART. After encountering many challenging syntheses during his PhD, Joseph has retained an interest in organic synthetic methods and has kept an eye on related research on IN-PART. Here, he highlights the top 8 chemistry innovations that have caught his eye on the platform.

Joseph’s Top 8 Chemistry Innovations 

Waste not, want not with reusable silicon-based cross-coupling agents

Cross-coupling reactions are those where two organic compounds are bound together with the aid of a metal catalyst. Such reactions are integral in the manufacture of natural products, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and organic materials. These bond-forming reactions normally lead to the stoichiometric production of waste and unwanted byproducts. Consequently, this makes for a challenging production and purification process.

A team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania has developed silicon-based transfer agents for palladium-mediated cross-coupling processes that eradicate these difficulties. As a result, the reactions are completed in a single vessel under mild reaction conditions yielding high purity products. Furthermore, this eliminates problems of lithium-halogen exchange, homocoupling (when two identical molecules react instead of the intended coupling), and the formation of waste products.

Read the full summary to learn more about this synthetic chemistry innovation.

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Shining a light on organic electronics

Fluorination is the chemical process of adding fluorine to a molecule to form organofluorine compounds. These compounds are useful in a wide range of fields, such as medical textiles, semiconductor production, and durable adhesives. A team of researchers at Colorado State University leading the field of organic electronics fluorination chemistry are using perfluoroalkylation synthesis techniques to access a new class of fluorinated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are a versatile class of nanocarbon compounds that can behave as organic semiconductors for use in circuitry for electronic devices. However, to do so, they must be chemically altered to optimise their electronic properties. Additionally, these reactions are usually difficult to control, resulting in highly impure products and a high price tag too.

The research group has developed a one-step, solvent-free perfluoroalkylation synthesis method that is easy to control and highly selective. Thus, allowing for the formation of very pure products. This innovative solution facilitates the use of organic nanostructures for flexible electronics, with these modified PAHs possessing electronic properties well-suited for use in photovoltaic solar cells and OLED displays. 

Read the full summary to learn more about this organic chemistry innovation.

 

Gel-based Grignard reagents for greater stability 

Organometallic reagents are compounds containing a carbon-metal bond, such as organolithium and Grignard reagents (where the metal is magnesium). These compounds are popular reagents for carbon-carbon bond forming reactions integral in many syntheses in the fields of pharmaceuticals and perfumes. However useful these reagents are, they are just as reactive, requiring low temperatures and inert handling. As a result, this introduces significant industry costs as well as health and safety challenges.

Researchers at the University of York have developed a novel method that creates an organometallic gel reagent without the challenges of its traditional counterpart. This gel reagent is highly stable and easy to handle. Furthermore, researchers can easily implement the method of production as it requires only standard chemical processing equipment and readily available precursors. This subsequently provides the opportunity for scalability.

Read the full summary to learn more about this organic chemistry innovation.

 

Radiotracer synthesis has had a glow up

Radiolabeled amino acids are an integral part of PET imaging of tumours. In particular, the naturally occurring amino acid leucine shows significant uptake in many types of primary and metastatic tumour sites. Fluorination is a key step for the production of these radiotracers, as well as many other medical compounds, including general anesthetics and corticosteroids. This process of incorporating radionuclides into leucine can be difficult, requiring harsh chemical conditions in the form of high temperatures and toxic and/or expensive fluorinating agents.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University have developed a novel process for the synthesis of 18F-fluorinated amino acids by direct fluorination, without the need for difficult precursor synthesis or high temperatures. The innovative process is conducted at room temperature in aqueous solution, thereby eradicating the need to dry reagents, facilitating minimal purification and material manipulation.

Read the full summary to learn more about this medical chemistry innovation.

 

Chiral catalysts for custom carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are essential biological molecules, yet their challenging synthesis hinders the advancement of their study. This is due to factors including multiple functional groups present, axial versus equatorial configurations, and linear and branched configurations. Moreover, current and developing synthesis technologies require expensive, solution-phase catalysts to enact the selective reactions required.

Chemists at the University of Michigan have developed a suite of chiral catalysts immobilised on solid supports. This in turn enables efficient, high-yield synthetic routes to bespoke carbohydrates, as well as a variety of other stereoselective syntheses. This innovation allows simplified isolation of reaction products from catalysts on account of the solid mounts, with these chiral catalysts also being reusable. Additionally, columns packed with the solid phase catalyst can be integrated into a larger process flow system, potentially facilitating the automated synthesis of custom carbohydrates.

Read the full summary to learn more about this organic chemistry innovation.

 

Arylation is transitioning away from metals

Metal cross-couplings facilitate the formation of carbon-carbon bonds. These bonds are used in the synthesis of agricultural chemicals, dyes, and other commercial-scale functionalised organics. Yet, there are challenges associated with these reactions, such as the high cost of transition metal catalysts, the often harsh conditions, and unwanted waste products. Therefore, a new technology is required to allow alternative synthesis pathways to enable the reduction of input and processing costs.

That’s where the researchers at Portland State University come in. Their novel one-pot method synthesises a wide range of compounds with high efficiency and reaction selectivity whilst also eliminating the need for transition metal catalysts and ligand-based separations. The chemistry is based on highly stable diaryliodonium salts. Diaryliodonium salts are noted for having a reactivity akin to the organometallic chemistry of transition metals. Thus, they can reduce processing costs for the likes of the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

Read the full summary to learn more about this synthetic chemistry innovation.

 

Direct fluorination for drug diversification

Fluorine has gained popularity as a drug component as it often increases potency and can lower the metabolic burden on the patient. Additionally, fluorinated drugs are desirable for PET imaging techniques due to the radioactive nature of fluorine-18. This all sounds pretty good, right? Well, the problem comes with the fluorination process; the major challenge is that fluorinating agents are notoriously expensive, toxic, and difficult to prepare.

Chemists at Princeton University have uncovered a simple and effective technique for drug diversification. This is through direct fluorination, which can eradicate the obstacles typically associated with fluorination chemistry. The innovative method involves the use of easily manageable fluoride salts and readily available manganese-containing catalysts to selectively fluorinate drugs and drug-like molecules in a single step. Such sites are inaccessible otherwise.

Read the full summary to learn more about this organic chemistry innovation.

 

Tightening the belt on nanotube synthesis

Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical molecules, typically synthesised from a carbon source by one of a range of established high-energy techniques. Like other nanocarbons, carbon nanotubes have found diverse applications. This is largely down to their structure possessing exceptional electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. Although several synthetic methods exist, it is not yet possible to access structurally uniform carbon nanotubes. This causes a mix of compositions as a result. Nagoya University researchers have developed an alternative ‘bottom-up’ synthetic approach via a carbon nanobelt (a loop of fused carbon rings).

Drawing on organic synthesis techniques, including sequential Wittig reactions (a carbon chain extension reaction very common in small molecule syntheses), the team at Nagoya has successfully synthesized a carbon nanobelt. This has provided the building blocks necessary to furnish structurally well-defined nanotubes which could have many potential applications. Examples include electronics, photonics, and energy storage to drug delivery and biological sensors, for example.

Read the full summary to learn more about this nanochemistry innovation.

 


Written by Ella Cliff and Joseph Ferner. Edited by Ruth Kirk.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘Staff picks: Top 8 chemistry innovations’


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In-text image credits (in order of appearance): Hans Reniers / Unsplash, Yasunori Takeda et al., / Wikimedia, CC BY 4.0, denisismagilov / Adobe Stock, Suzi / Adobe Stock, Souvik / Adobe Stock, ValentinValkov / Adobe Stock, luchschenF / Adobe Stock, Nagoya University

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