Dr. Harmata

Dr. Michael Harmata, Norman Rabjohn Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

Organic chemistry involves the study of compounds that contain carbon. There are many such compounds. All of the compounds associated with life contain carbon, and it is the synthesis and reactions of organic compounds that propel life forward. Nature is a splendid organic chemist. Nature has gone so far as to produce beings who can do chemistry that extends beyond what is needed for life. These beings are products of Nature that extends Nature’s hand in the art of organic synthesis and reactivity and extend the reach of organic chemistry into the entire periodic table, for what appears to the first time. I am one such being, a stepping stone in a continuum of beings interested in how the world works and in creating new combinations of matter that affect life in a myriad of ways.

I am technically a synthetic organic chemist, a builder of molecules and a designer of tools to do the building. But such a label does not fully embrace the breadth of my interests or abilities. Often, synthetic chemists can be pigeonholed into being judged on the basis of whether they can make natural products and make them efficiently. But underneath that lies an ocean of interesting and important questions involving the nature of bonds, the ability to control and exploit reactivity, the details of how bonds break and form and much potential for invention, curiosity and wonder. We should worry about efficiency, but in the academic world we should consider the promise of pure fancy. I can make any molecule I want, but can I make it any way I want to? We are only limited by certain laws of thermodynamics. New ways of putting atoms together leads to new understanding of how the world works. Whether such things are rigorously defined as new reactions or not is immaterial; they impart new knowledge and provide new stepping-stones for all, including those who focus only on efficiency.

My research interests span many areas and are detailed elsewhere on this website. Often to my own chagrin, I find too many things interesting and am anxious to try new and potentially crazy ideas to try to form bonds between carbon atoms and any other atom that is willing to go along for the ride. It is great fun and important in both fundamental and applied domains of science. Come and join me on this wonderful adventure.