I spent much of yesterday morning at the Young Academic Investigators' talks in the Organic Chemistry Division. I was struck by two back-to-back presentations that shared a common theme- using the chemistry of pyridine, a deceivingly simple-looking molecule, to make complex structures.
Richmond Sarpong's team at U.C. Berkeley is focused on making alkaloids, such as those from fern-like Lycopodium plants. "One can see in pyridines a source for arriving at highly functionalized piperidines," Sarpong said.
Chris Vanderwal's group at U.C. Irvine is also working with pyridines, though in a different way. "We completely obliterate the pyridine ring," Vanderwal said. With the help of a century-old reaction, his team converts salts derived from pyridines to 5-carbon building blocks that are "packed with reactive possibilities," he said. His team is using those building blocks to construct other families of alkaloids, including those from the rainforest Iboga shrub.
I was chatting with Vanderwal about his work when we got caught up in a mass exodus of chemists from the convention center. The fire alarm had gone off for reasons that are still not clear. Fortunately, we were only stuck outside for around 5 minutes. Twitter user Robert Wiacek posted this pic of a fire truck pulling up to the building. For your viewing pleasure, here's a video I shot of chemists milling around in front of the convention center.