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SCS2022: Creating the boring chemistry of tomorrow

Phil Baran is one of the speakers at SCS2022 in June. Photo:

– We are genuinely interested in simplifying chemistry, says Phil Baran, Professor at the Department of Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute, USA.

He is running a lab where the focus is on method development within the field of organic chemistry. The aim is to develop new methods to do things that could not be done before but also to make existing techniques easier and more effective.

– We want to find the most practical solution to different chemistry problems. In some ways, what we do is like modern alchemy – we want to find the way to get what you want by doing the minimal amount of labour, he says.

– Essentially, we want to develop methods that are so useful that they will one day be regarded as boring because they are used so much. We want to make the boring chemistry of tomorrow!

Organic chemistry can be used to synthesize many different types of compounds, such as natural products, materials, and medicinal compounds. This means that good, simplified methods within the field can be useful in many different projects and for different applications.

Many of the projects in Phil Baran’s lab are performed together with industry partners.

– Over the past 10 years, we have gradually gone from 90 percent of our funding coming from the federal government to less than half of that, with the majority coming from collaborations with different industrial partners. This means that we get to work with everything from fragrances and agrochemicals to medicines. The industry projects are often very interesting for students since they take us out of our comfort zone, and when we have found a solution to the problem we get to see its use in real life.

Phil Baran has a B.Sc. from New York University, NYU. He did his PhD project at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California, which was followed by a postdoc fellowship at Harvard University from 2001 to 2003.

He says that he wasn’t really a good student in school, until he found chemistry.

– When I discovered chemistry I realized that I wanted to focus on that. I took extra courses in chemistry in community college, and at NYU, I mainly focused on organic chemistry. The reason why I became interested in method development is that there were many things that I wanted to do that couldn’t be done using current methods.

Phil Baran is one of the plenary speakers at the second national meeting of the Swedish Chemical Society, SCS 2022, which takes place in Linköping on the 20-22nd of June. The meeting will bring together chemists from all fields of chemistry represented within the Swedish Chemical Society (Svenska Kemisamfundet). Read more here: