Emerging in the early part of the nineteenth century, the structure of the molecule and the ability to synthesize it constitute two of the most influential discoveries of all time. Transforming alchemy into the modern science of chemistry, these advents changed the world as they continue to advance and deliver benefits to science and society. Organic synthesis or synthetic organic chemistry, as it is otherwise known, is the art and science of constructing organic molecules, whose primary element is carbon, such as those found in living creatures and also some synthetic materials. Medicines, vitamins and other nutritional goods, cosmetics, polymers and plastics, high energy fuels and high-tech materials are some of the benefits of organic synthesis to society. As a ubiquitous and enabling science and technology, this discipline has also impacted other sciences and engineering by facilitating the emergence and development of other disciplines and technologies such as chemical biology, medicinal chemistry, biology and biotechnology, physics, materials science and nanotechnology. This recognition of the centrality and importance of organic synthesis necessitates and dictates its continuous advancement—both method development and total synthesis. The former is essential for improving our ability to make molecules, of all kinds and all intents and purposes and in efficient and green ways, and the latter in order to test and apply the newly discovered synthetic methods to the synthesis of ever increasing molecular complexity and diversity for specific applications and useful products.
Recognizing the indispensable nature and centrality of organic synthesis, the Department of Chemistry has recently moved to establish a critical number of faculty dedicated to the advancement of organic synthesis and its applications to biology and medicine, among other disciplines. The recruitment of Professors K.C. Nicolaou in 2013 and László Kürti in 2015 is demonstrative of this initiative, whose goal is to bring more synthetic organic faculty to Rice as means to increase the national and international visibility of Rice and to facilitate interactions and interdisciplinary research within the University and our neighboring institutions at the Texas Medical Center. Research in the Kürti lab focuses primarily on the discovery and development of new synthetic reactions, particularly applicable to the drug discovery and development process, while the Nicolaou lab focuses primarily on the discovery and development of synthetic strategies and technologies for the synthesis of complex natural and designed molecules of biological and medical importance. The projected strengthening of organic synthesis at Rice is also expected to result in Academic-Industrial partnerships with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, a paradigm that has already been realized with some faculty. Further strengthening of organic synthesis in the Department through recruitment of new faculty is expected in the future.