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Trost symposium to explore new fields of organic chemistry

STANFORD -- Scientists working at the frontiers of organic chemistry will gather at Stanford University on Saturday, June 22, for a symposium honoring Prof. Barry M. Trost.

The symposium, a Stanford centennial event, will feature addresses from five of the leading organic chemists in North America. It has attracted more than 200 chemists from universities and corporations around the world.

It was organized by the "Trost Group," the professor's 40 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. The group decided that a cake would not suffice to celebrate their leader's 50th birthday and 25th year of teaching. Instead, they planned the scientific event, and called on some of Trost's 300 former students for support.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Sunaina Sharma, a visiting scholar from the University of Western Ontario who led the symposium planners. She said 14 corporations that employ former Trost students offered to underwrite the meeting. Former students and other scholars are expected to attend from as far away as Japan, many at their own expense.

The five speakers are: Charles Casey of the University of Wisconsin- Madison, William Johnson of Stanford, Albert Meyers of Colorado State University, Larry Overman of the University of California-Irvine and Amos Smith of the University of Pennsylvania. Paul Wender of Stanford will deliver the introductory remarks and Dennis Curran of the University of Pittsburgh will close the meeting.

Trost said he eagerly anticipates hearing the speakers.

"These are among the leading lights in organic chemistry in the United States. They will be talking about subjects that are at the frontiers of the science," he said.

The speakers share an interest in the field of organic synthesis. They are seeking the simplest possible routes to put together complex molecules that can be used for industry and medicine.

Smith and Overman, for example, use different approaches to synthesize bioactive materials. The body makes some important chemicals -- peptide hormones, for example -- in very small quantities. If these can be made in the laboratory, they can be studied, and perhaps improved to help combat disease.

Casey studies the fundamental chemistry of catalysts, substances that speed chemical reactions without being used up in the reactions themselves. He has defined new classes of catalysts and new types of chemical reactivity that had not been observed before.

Johnson's work may lead to new ways to synthesize corticoids, substances produced by the adrenal gland that control many functions in the body. He has changed the prevailing view of how corticoids work as enzymes or organic catalysts. Meyers has shown how chemists can produce molecules that are either "right-handed" or "left-handed." In nature, an organism may recognize one molecule but not its mirror image. It was previously difficult to efficiently produce "handed" molecules in the laboratory.

Trost and his group work on strategies for creating new molecules highly selectively, using new concepts of catalysis and devising new strategies to make substances with a minimum amount of raw materials and few by-products. He has synthesized more than 70 molecules, ranging from anti-tumor agents to electrical conductors. One area of recent interest for his group is a glycosidase inhibitor, a type of substance that may someday be useful in controlling infections from viruses such as HIV.

Trost is the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Professor of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford. He is the author of more than 430 scientific publications, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of many awards, including the American Chemical Society's awards for Pure Chemistry and for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry.



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