At their May 20, 2021 meeting, the University of Michigan Regents approved promotions of five chemistry professors, effective September 1, 2021. These highlights are abridged from the Regents Proceedings. 

Promotion to the Rank of Professor

Julie Biteen-Johnsen

Professor Biteen-Johnsen has developed a respected and well-funded research program that involves inventing and applying techniques for measuring protein dynamics at the single molecule level in living cells. She contributes high quality teaching in all areas of the chemistry department. Her service is exemplary and she has grown into an acknowledged leader in the department and the scientific community

Professor Biteen-Johnsen has successfully taught five different courses since promotion including a large service course, multiple undergraduate courses, and a graduate course. The diversity of course assignments is due to her willingness to step in where needed and an eagerness to take on several classes.  Professor Biteen-Johnsen is well-respected in multiple disciplines for her research developing and applying single molecule fluorescence microscopy. Her emphasis on microbial cells sets her apart from most of the singlemolecule imaging field and is timely due to the interest in the microbiome. She has used her approaches to shed light on how proteins bind to each other in the cell to perform functions such as DNA replication and starch utilization. These applications demonstrate the exciting potential of her novel methods to understand the biochemistry of microbes. 

Professor Biteen-Johnsen has an unusually extensive service record for this promotion. For the department, she served on the Executive (an elected position), Faculty Search, Graduate, and Diversity committees, among others. This year she started as the departmental ombuds.

Corinna Schindler

Professor Schindler has become a leader in organic chemistry by discovering new reactions, including the carbonyl-olefin methathesis reaction, uncovering mechanisms, and developing existing reactions for new transformations. She has also developed new routes for synthesizing complex molecules, including some that depend upon her reaction discovery. She has provided high-quality instruction, including fresh approaches that involve creation of materials to better train GSIs and allow students to problem-solve and practice with rapid feedback. She has engaged in outreach to promote understanding and interest in science at several levels.

Professor Schindler has recognized that we have had a large influx of master’s degree students from various programs with different backgrounds from our traditional Ph.D. chemistry student. Because these students sometimes struggle with the pace of a typical class, she has made an effort to provide more assistance to her students through evening problem solving sessions, matching students to tutors, and developing a boot camp concept for new students.

Professor Schindler’s research emphasizes development of new reactions and catalysts as well as synthesis of complex molecules. Pre-tenure, Professor Schindler developed the carbonyl-olefin metathesis reaction, which was widely considered to be a major discovery because of the potential for new synthetic methods. Since this discovery, she has explored mechanisms of the reaction in depth, designed new catalysts for the reaction that broaden the scope, and demonstrated its use in synthesis. She also took up two new focuses on methods for imine-based cycloadditions, a reaction of interest in many complex syntheses, and natural product synthesis. In this latter area, a highlight was the synthesis of herquiline, a challenging target with medicinal significance.

The most significant departmental activity was organizing the Merck Symposium, a large event that brings several Merck Scientists the UM for a conference. Professor Schindler started this event as an assistant professor and received funding from Merck to continue running it under her leadership

“I believe that Professor Corinna Schindler is one of the top [junior] synthetic organic chemists in the world,” says one reviewer.

Nathaniel Szymczak

Professor Szymczak is an inorganic chemist interested in using metals to catalyze reactions. The reactions that metals catalyze can be strongly influenced by the ligands that are bound to them. Most effort in designing catalysts has focused on the primary or first coordination sphere, i.e. the effect of the atom bound directly to the metal. Professor Szymczak has taken the novel approach of developing ligands where the secondary coordination sphere, i.e. atoms distal from the metal binding region, also influences the catalytic reaction through interactions such as hydrogen bonding. In his post-tenure work, he has expanded on this area and focused on designing catalysts for activation (i.e., modifying to be useful for later reactions) of important small molecules including dinitrogen, dioxygen, and carbon dioxide. Such reactions are of high fundamental and industrial significance. In a new area since tenure, Professor Szymczak been involved in development of novel fluoroalkylating reagents. Such reagents enable reactions of importance in the pharmaceutical industry. His approach is considered innovative due to the use of novel catalyst designs.

Professor Szymczak teaches his undergraduate laboratory as an “Authentic Research Design” (ARD) class where students are given a problem and use their knowledge to develop a hypothesis and plan experiments to test the hypothesis.

Professor Szymczak has developed a creative approach to catalyze chemical reactions that activate small molecules based on ligands that bind to metals and control the reaction from both the first and second coordination sphere. He has been a dedicated teacher and mentor at all levels and evolved his innovative lab course design with success. He has developed leadership through service, especially for improving our safety culture.

Promoted to Rank of Associate Professor with tenure

Andrew Ault

Professor Ault uses Raman Spectroscopy and atomic-force microscopy-photothermal infrared spectroscopy to study the chemistry and physical properties of aerosols at the individual particle level. Knowledge of aerosol chemistry is critical to understanding aerosols’ impact on health and climate. He has developed methods to measure the pH of aerosols, an important breakthrough that helps predict chemical reactions within aerosols. He has also developed spectroscopy methods to uncover the composition of aerosols. Finally, he is the first to measure lake spray aerosol and has demonstrated their potential to carry toxins from algal blooms.

Professor Ault has taught 11 different classes between the School of Public Health (SPH) and the Department of Chemistry.

Professor Ault has developed a creative and impactful research program developing new approaches to measure the chemistry of aerosols. He has developed a range of classes in environmental chemistry and has been a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sciences.

Alison Narayan

Professor Narayan has developed a lauded research program at the interface of chemical biology and organic chemistry. She has discovered and characterized enzymes with utility for synthesizing complex molecules. She has harnessed these enzymes through selected modifications to catalyze reactions important in synthesis of natural product derivatives with medicinal potential. She has successfully taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, including a large gateway course, and proven to be a dedicated mentor with an eye on student success

Professor Narayan has a strong teaching record. She has taught CHEM 210, a large gateway course, three times. Professor Narayan uses a blend of chemical biology and organic chemistry to discover enzymes with useful catalytic properties, studies the reactivity of the enzymes, evolves the enzymes to be useful for complex molecule synthesis, and uses the novel biocatalysts for synthetic chemistry. The new biocatalysts are designed to yield selective modifications during the late stages of synthesis of large molecules. A significant accomplishment includes development of enzymatic approaches to oxidative dearomatization, a reaction that has been difficult for ordinary catalysts and yet is valued for its ability to increase complexity of a molecule.

She has participated in numerous outreach activities such as judging local science fairs and science demonstrations for young women. Her external service includes reviewing for journals and helping to organize national meetings. Her service is excellent for this rank.

“It is the courageous scientists like Professor Narayan who are bridging the longstanding gap between the biocatalysis and synthetic chemistry communities. With her deep understanding of enzymes and synthetic chemistry, good taste in choosing interesting problems, she has emerged as a leading player in this vibrant and growing field… The very first publication from Professor Narayan’s group (Nat. Chem., 2018) was a blockbuster,” writes one reviewer.