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02/09/2007 08:00:00

Moore Funds Center to Facilitate Chemical Discovery

PASADENA, Calif.-Facilities to automate the work of experimental chemistry may soon accelerate the process of chemical discovery at the California Institute of Technology, thanks to a grant of over $11 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The grant will establish a Center for Catalysis and Chemical Synthesis (3CS), with facilities operated by the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. The center aims to speed the invention of new catalytic reactions, much as improved robotics accelerated the Human Genome Project.

Caltech chemists have proposed several major projects that could benefit from faster experimentation. According to Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry Robert Grubbs, founding director of the center and 2005 Nobel laureate in chemistry, projects will include the development and production of medicines, new reactions for making industrial products out of biomass, and the catalytic conversion of sunlight energy into stored chemical fuels.

"The increasing demands on chemistry resulting from new drug targets from the Human Genome Project and critical environmental requirements of chemical processes require us to develop more efficient techniques for chemical discovery," Grubbs says.

Bringing together scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, the center will create two new facilities, which will share resources to promote both the rapid discovery of chemical reactions and the production of focused molecular libraries.

Like test-kitchen chefs trying variations to perfect a recipe, robotics and instruments at the facility for catalyst and reaction invention will allow investigators to rapidly survey a wide array of reaction parameters. The conventional approach is labor intensive, taking researchers' time away from the conceptual or innovative aspects of their work, so researchers have often chosen familiar syntheses rather than taking the chances that could lead to new discoveries. By making experimentation easier, the center will facilitate the exploration of higher-risk strategies.

Many of the same techniques that are used for developing new reactions can also be used to synthesize molecular libraries. Researchers use libraries for an efficient and cost-effective "shotgun" approach, performing many simultaneous tests to see what works. Yet large existing libraries are not ideal for particular applications. The focused library facility will make it easier and faster to generate small libraries designed for specific targets, allowing researchers to optimize them efficiently for their selected applications.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in 2000 and seeks to develop outcome-based projects that will improve the quality of life for future generations. It has organized the majority of its grant making around large-scale initiatives and concentrates funding in three program areas: environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The foundation's $300 million California Institute of Technology commitment, combined with an additional personal gift of $300 million from Gordon and Betty Moore, make Caltech the recipient of the largest donation ever made to an institution of higher learning. Gordon Moore is an alumnus (PhD '54) and trustee of the Institute.


Written by: John Avery

Contact: Pam Pollace (415) 561-7414

Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Written by John Avery