Scientists are not usually known by their nicknames. Melanie Sanford, Professor
at the University of Michigan, is an exception to that rule: Her commitment
to new catalytic reactions for cleaner systems and greener processes in chemistry
and her new approaches to molecule-building through breaking the normally unreactive,
very strong carbon-hydrogen (CH) bond has earned the 34 year-old chemist
the title "bond-breaker" in the science press. For her outstanding
achievements in developing new catalytic concepts in organic synthesis Professor
Dr. Sanford has won the BASF
Catalysis Award 2009 worth 10,000 Euro.
"In catalysis, we are driven by the environmental challenges of our time.
The starting point of my career was the question how we can use less energy
in making chemicals and make the process less wasteful? Today, we want to make
new molecules relevant to the pharmaceutical, fine chemical and agrochemical
industries", Sanford says.
"The BASF Catalysis Award underlines the importance of catalysis for
industrial synthesis. In recent years, the development of catalysts has resulted
in tremendous improvements how we synthesize chemicals. Modern catalysis helps
us to be more resource and energy efficient and thus makes our processes better
from an economical and ecological perspective." said Dr. John Feldmann,
member of BASF’s Board of Executive Directors, at the 5th Heidelberg Forum
of Molecular Catalysis. Jointly organized by the University of Heidelberg, BASF
SE and the Collaborative Research Center "Molecular Catalysts",
the biennial international congress presents latest topics and results in molecular
Award winner Sanford is familiar with industrial catalysis from her Ph.D. studies
at the California Institute of Technology Caltech where she was part of the
group of Robert Grubbs, 2005 Nobel laureate in chemistry for the development
of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.
With a background in catalysis, organic synthesis and industry, Sanford applies
biological models to discover new catalytic reactions. How to make molecules
react in a more controlled way and to select the right bonds in reactions are
her biggest challenges in lab work. "We learn a lot from biological systems
which have evolved over millions of years. In short: we do what enzymes do,
but we try to develop catalysts that are more general than the natural systems",
Sanford explains. She therefore describes herself as an "organic-inorganic
chemist", with a research program spanning the areas of organic synthesis,
catalysis, and organometallic chemistry. Sanford concentrates on problems at
the interface of organic and inorganic chemistry and is focused particularly
on evaluating reactions between organic substrates and transition metals to
address current challenges in organic synthesis.
After receiving her PhD in 2001, Melanie Sanford worked with Professor Jay
Groves at Princeton University as a post-doctoral fellow, studying metalloporphyrin-catalyzed
functionalizations of olefins. She was appointed as an assistant professor in
2003 and since 2007 teaches as Associate Professor at the University of Michigan.
Recently her interest turned towards the functionalization of simple molecules
such as methane or benzene, which are significant challenges for the chemical
and energy sectors.