Special Delivery For A Synthesis Victory #ACSDenver
Aug30

Special Delivery For A Synthesis Victory #ACSDenver

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...

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Organic Chemistry Music Videos Building Momentum
Jun15

Organic Chemistry Music Videos Building Momentum

Students learn better by doing—that seems to be the ideology among educators, particularly science educators. In organic chemistry, for instance, actually carrying out an epoxidation rather than just watching a professor lecture about pushing electrons can drive home the concept. In addition to having students carry out labs, however, some organic chemistry professors seem to be helping their undergraduates learn common reactions by having them make videos. Nope, these aren’t instructional videos—they’re music videos. In this age of YouTube, everyone’s a star. And organic chemistry students are no exception. Take the undergraduates in Neil Garg’s class, for example. I’ve written about Garg, a professor at UCLA, previously. Last spring, he encouraged his students to make extra-credit music videos about organic chemistry for his introductory course. At the time, he expected five videos to be turned in. Instead, he received 61. Among them was the YouTube sensation “Chemistry Jock.” The rest, as they say, is history. The video above, “O-Chem Toolbox,” is just one of the videos submitted by Garg’s students this year. As you can see, it’s a parody of Saturday Night Live’s D*** in a Box. To see the rest of the student’s submissions for 2011, click here. Garg says that he encouraged his students this year to become “chemistry jedis” by learning the concepts and doing well on the exams, so you might notice some references to Star Wars in the clips. UCLA has covered this fresh batch of videos. In part of the press release, Garg explains why his extra-credit project has worked so well: "The majority of the Chem 14D students are hooked on technology, such as the Internet and YouTube," Garg said. "Rather than fighting this, I designed the assignment to take advantage of the students' strengths and interests. I didn't realize at the outset that so many students would create spectacular videos. When you consider the clever lyrics about organic chemistry and the high quality of the video editing and the audio, the TA's and I were extremely impressed by how amazingly creative UCLA's south campus students are. "Don't believe anyone who says creativity is mostly in the humanities and arts; the evidence otherwise is right in these videos.” And Garg has inspired others to bring creativity and music to their classrooms. Jon D. Rainier of the University of Utah gave a similar extra-credit assignment to the undergraduates in his introductory organic chemistry class last fall. “I must admit that I was somewhat reluctant at first,” Rainier says of the project. “I wasn't sure that Utah students could live up to the standards that the UCLA students had established and I wasn't confident that...

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