Welcoming Dr. Soumitra Athavale

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Dr. Soumitra Athavale

The department welcomes innovative organic chemist Dr. Soumitra Athavale, who will join the UCLA faculty as an Assistant Professor on July 1, 2023.

At UCLA, Athavale and his group will develop new synthetic methods, biocatalysts and therapeutics, as well as answer fundamental questions in protein structure and (bio)molecular evolution.   His discoveries will have wide reaching impact in the protein engineering and protein design fields and will advance the role of biocatalysis in total synthesis.  Collectively, his research program covers broad topics at the interface of chemistry and biology.

“We welcome Soumitra to UCLA,” said Professor Miguel García-Garibay, UCLA’s Dean of Physical Sciences. “He is an accomplished physical organic chemist who will tackle fundamental and practical questions at the interface of chemistry and biology.  His innovative track record in research will attract talented students to UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry.  We look forward to working with him as a colleague to launch his independent academic career.”

A native of India, Athavale received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Chemistry and Biology from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune, India.  He then joined Professor Scott Denmark’s lab at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and received his Ph.D. degree in Organic Chemistry in 2019.  For postdoctoral training, he joined Professor Frances Arnold’s laboratory at California Institute of Technology where he has been since 2019.  In 2020, as a solo participant, he was a co-winner of the Merck Compound challenge, which is a global retrosynthesis challenge including over 100 world-leading competing teams.

“We are so excited to welcome Soumitra to UCLA,” said Distinguished Kenneth N. Trueblood Professor Neil Garg, the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Soumitra is full of positive energy and wonderful ideas! His addition to our department will greatly strengthen our efforts in organic chemistry and chemical biology.”

“We are highly enthusiastic about Dr. Athavale’s research,” said search Chair Professor Yi Tang, Chair of the search committee. “He has a strong vision and innovative ideas that can lead to potentially paradigm shifting discoveries.  His expertise in synthetic chemistry, protein engineering and biocatalysis is the perfect addition and complement to our existing research areas.”

Athavale is also deeply committed to promoting diversity and equity in the classroom and research lab.   At Caltech, he has served as a mentor for underrepresented minority students as part of his involvement in the “COMPASS” mentorship program.  Athavale was selected as finalist for the Merck 2021 Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color. 

“Dr. Athavale’s wide breadth of knowledge and presentation skills will also make him an excellent teacher in many of the core, elective and advanced graduate courses we currently teach, including those in organic chemistry, biochemistry and chemical biology,” Tang said. “As a research mentor, his research interests will further help the department attract chemical biology graduate students, which have been steadily growing in our incoming Ph.D. applicant pool.”

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.