Two University of Michigan Chemistry alumni, Mónica Pérez-Temprano and Darryl Boyd, were selected for Chemistry and Engineering News’s (C&EN) 2018 Talented 12 list. This award recognizes a diverse group of young investigators who are pushing the boundaries of chemistry to address global problems. For 2018, C&EN chose twelve awardees from a pool of about 350 nominees.
Dr. Mónica Pérez-Temprano, who worked as a postdoctoral researcher with U-M Chemistry Professor Melanie Sanford, was awarded a spot on the Talented 12 for her work trapping reactive intermediate species in cobalt-catalyzed chemical reactions at her independent laboratory at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia. Cobalt is an interesting metal to study because it can catalyze a variety of reactions and it is less expensive than other typical transition-metal catalysts (palladium, rhodium). Despite these advantages, chemists understand much less about how it works. A key breakthrough in Dr. Pérez-Temprano’s work was using acetonitrile (a solvent molecule) to stabilize and isolate a highly reactive and previously-elusive cobalt intermediate in an annulation reaction. Trapping these types of intermediates provides crucial information about the elementary steps of cobalt-catalyzed reactions that modify C–H bonds. This knowledge allows Dr. Pérez-Temprano and her group to both improve the efficiency of existing cobalt-catalyzed reactions and to discover new reactions.
Dr. Pérez-Temprano is enthusiastic about the future of this work, which she believes will help chemists design new catalysts to push the boundaries of what cobalt can do. “Many times, the reactions that we run in the lab don’t work, but that doesn’t mean that they are impossible. Sometimes the problem is that a specific and maybe non-intuitive elementary step is not efficient,” she explains.
Dr. Darryl Boyd, who worked as an undergraduate with U-M Chemistry Professor Vince Pecoraro, was named to the Talent 12 for his work at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory making chalcogenide-based (sulfur, selenium) polymers for night vision goggles and other infrared optics. He adapted a newly-developed technique that allowed him to make novel polymers with ideal optical and physical properties. Typically, polymers are good materials for optics. However, most polymers are not transparent to infrared light because they are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Dr. Boyd approached this problem by applying a recently-developed technique, called inverse vulcanization, to make polymers that contain primarily sulfur and selenium atoms rather than carbon and hydrogen. It is this key mixture of atoms that makes Dr. Boyd’s polymers transparent – he even demonstrated that an image of a human subject could be captured through a disk of his polymer using a camera that “sees” infrared light.
Dr. Boyd’s work could inspire development of a new class of materials based on chalcogen atoms. He is eager to continue making discoveries in this field. “There is so much unexplored about chalcogen polymers,” he says. “People are exploring uses for them in a broad range of applications including optics, rechargeable battery technology and solar cell research. All of this opportunity is very exciting to me.”
Time spent at the University of Michigan was formative for both. At Michigan, Dr. Pérez-Temprano discovered her “passion for teaching and mentoring students,” she says. “Until that moment, I never thought I could be a good educator, and now, when I look at my group, I think it is the most rewarding part of my job.”
As an undergraduate, Dr. Boyd learned what graduate study would look like and learned leadership skills from classes and research with his mentor, Vincent Pecoraro. , “both of which have affected how I now conduct research” Dr. Boyd says.
These experiences have propelled each of them on to unique careers where they are using chemistry to drive innovation and both Talented 12 awardees are also involved in inspiring the next generation of scientific researchers.
Dr. Boyd manages a website and YouTube channel as “Dr. Boyd, The Chemist,” where he does science outreach and hopes to show young people that “anyone can be a scientist.”
For Dr. Pérez-Temprano, mentoring and training younger scientists is part of her daily life. She emphasizes that “scientific legacy not only involves research accomplishments but also the potential impact in your students’ career/life.”
For other young investigators who strive to make creative discoveries with impact on global problems, Dr. Boyd suggests “observation, blended with a healthy dose of curiosity, supplemented with a consistent pursuit of learning, which in science largely means reading the literature.”
Dr. Pérez-Temprano adds, “key features of people who push boundaries are passion, commitment, creativity and, from my perspective, good mentorship skills. There are so many scientific fields to explore and merge… the sky is the limit.”
Emily Mueller is a Chemistry Graduate Science Communication Fellow.
Angewandte Chemie: Capturing Elusive Cobaltacycle Intermediates: A Real‐Time Snapshot of the Cp*CoIII‐Catalyzed Oxidative Alkyne Annulation https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201704744
website: Dr. Boyd, The Chemist “Science Made Simple”
YouTube “Dr. Boyd, The Chemist”
Chemical Communications: ORMOCHALCs: organically modified chalcogenide polymers for infrared optics Boyd, et al, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
Talented 12 C&ENews American Chemical Society