Aug 25, 2016
Prof. Alex Spokoyny
Chemical & Engineering News includes Professor Alex Spokoyny in its 2nd annual Talented 12 feature, highlighting young investigators who are doing groundbreaking work in the field.
 
The Talented Twelve list, created by the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society, recognized Spokoyny as one of the “path-paving young researchers and entrepreneurs who are using chemistry to solve global problems.”
 
The names of the Talented Twelve were revealed at the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia on August 22nd, in a special symposium during which the nominees presented their research. The rising stars were chosen for the list by a panel of esteemed advisers, last year's winners, and C&EN's editorial board for nominees, in addition to nominations by readers.
 
Spokoyny is the second UCLA chemistry and biochemistry assistant professor to be named to C&EN's Talented Twelve list. Prof. Hosea Nelson received the honor in 2015.
 
To learn more about Spokoyny’s research visit his group’s website.
 
From Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) (by Steve Ritter):
 
12 C&EN’s TALENTED TWELVE
 
ALEX SPOKOYNY
 
Codename: Inorganic Architect
 
Many scientists say that as a kid they always wanted to be a scientist. That wasn’t the case for UCLA’s Alex Spokoyny. “Growing up in Russia in a family where my mom was a biologist and my dad was a physicist, there was always pressure to be a scientist,” Spokoyny says. 
 
Although he liked analyzing things, he was also a natural contrarian who would argue with his parents. Still, Spokoyny eventually compromised with his mom and dad, agreeing to attend a sciencehigh school in Russia. While there, a funny thing happened: He got hooked on chemistry.
 
“There’s a Russian saying: ‘Sometimes the appetite comes during the meal.’ It was really the experimental side of chemistry that captured my interest.”  
 
Spokoyny has been hungry ever since. From his undergraduate days through his postdoc, Spokoyny has studied a vast array of chemical systems, including boron-based clusters with therapeutic potential, metal-organic framework compounds that separate gases, and methods to modify proteins.  
 
He’s now integrating that collective wisdom into something distinctly his own—what he calls “organomimetic” chemistry. “We still have limited chemical building blocks for making compounds,” Spokoyny says. The goal of his lab is to develop boron-based inorganic clusters as three-dimensional alternatives to conventional “flat” organic molecules.
 
Decorating the clusters with various functional groups to manipulate their properties allows researchers to do new and interesting chemistry. For example, adding aryl ether groups and then activating the clusters with light enables them to jump-start polymerizations without expensive metal-based catalysts. The possibilities for organomimetic chemistry are vast, Spokoyny says, and could include a more versatile approach to converting sunlight into electricity and the development of highly selective cancer therapies.
 
 “Alex is one of the most accomplished, mature, visionary young scientists I’ve ever met,” says
Northwestern University’s Chad A. Mirkin, one of Spokoyny’s former advisers. “He has a better
understanding of chemical reactions and how to harness them than most full professors.” — STEVE RITTER
 
The full C&EN feature is available here