When John Wood read about the first total synthesis of N-methylwelwitindolinone C isothiocyanate, he was impressed. After all, the densely functionalized welwitindolinone family of alkaloids has been in synthetic chemists’ crosshairs for the better part of two decades. Fifteen different labs, including Wood’s own at Colorado State, have published over 20 “progress toward” papers on one subset of welwitindolinones alone. And this particular natural product, with intriguing bioactivity on drug-resistant tumor cells, has proven to be among the most desirable targets.
Once he really studied the synthesis (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja206538k), presented today at ACS Denver by UCLA’s Neil Garg and his grad students Alex Huters, Kyle Quasdorf, and Evan Styduhar, he decided the work merited more than just the customary “Nice job” email that floats between professors as a means of congratulation. Fortunately, he knew just what would fit the bill.
“A few years ago as part of a woodworking project I was doing I learned how to sandblast images onto glass,” Wood says. “I was so taken with Garg’s synthesis that after I read it I went home and sandblasted the image of his retrosynthetic scheme onto four beer glasses,” one for each team member. He then shipped the package to California, where an unsuspecting Garg received it in his office.
“I called the students in before I opened the box,” Garg says. When he pulled the package open, it contained the four glasses, carefully decorated with the team’s names and their chemistry. But the box held something more. “There was a nice card and a $20 bill in there,” he recounts. In the card, Wood advised Garg to use the $20 to take his students out for a beer as they deserved it on account of their fine work.
“This is a really competitive field, so it’s been great to have support” from the community, Garg says. He notes that his own Ph.D. adviser, Caltech’s Brian Stoltz, worked on this same natural product family as a graduate student with Wood.
The $20 was spent as instructed, Garg reports. “But nobody wants to use the glasses because they’re really cool.”
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