Catalysis, Asymmetric Catalysis, Synthetic Methods, Synthetic Receptors, Biofuels, Renewable Feedstocks
Northwestern University, Ph.D. (1991). NSERC of Canada Postdoc at Caltech (1991-1992) and Harvard University (1992-1995); CaRLa Fellow (University of Heidelberg (2008), Exeter College Visiting Fellow (Oxford University, 2006), SCR Member Wadham College (Oxford University, 2005-2006), W. R. Kenan Jr. Leave (2005-2006), NSERC GSC-24 Grants Selection Committee (2005-2008), Canadian Journal of Chemistry Board of Editors (2002-2005), Camille-Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award (2000), Union Carbide Innovation Recognition Award (2000), 3M Untenured Faculty Award (1999), NSF Career Award (1996), Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012)
Research in the Gagné group focuses on developing new synthetic methods for complex bond constructions using transition metal catalysis. In many cases we look to enzymes like Squalene-Hopene Cyclase, SHC, for inspiration. For example, SHC utilizes the cation-olefin reaction to zip up Squalene into the multi-ring plant steroid Hopene.
To mimic the biosynthesis of the sterols, we have developed a variety of strategies utilizing carbophilic, late metal catalysts, Pd, Pt, Au, capable of mediating the repetitive nature of the cation-olefin reaction. These fundamental studies have led to catalysts capable of accelerating and controlling reactions, enantio-, distereo-, and regio-selectivity, useful in complex molecule synthesis.
In other cases we seek to develop new catalysts capable of catalyzing reactions that are not biomimetic, but rather seek to utilize renewable, non-petroleum starting materials. In one such project we seek to develop catalysts for difficult C-O activation reactions so that polysaccharides can be used as renewable feedstocks for complex molecule synthesis. We like to think of these efforts as learning to make fine chemicals and pharmaceutical intermediates from potatoes (starch) and cardboard (cellulose).
A third major thrust of the research group is in an area known as dynamic combinatorial chemistry, DCC. This relatively new approach to the discovery of synthetic receptors utilizes age-old chemical principles, for example le Chatelier's Principle, to discover receptors in a competitive selection environment. Although we have primarily utilized this tool to discover chiral receptors, we have formed a center with Waters & Jorgenson, to exploit it in the area of catalysis, sensing, and smart materials.