Organic Chemistry

Featured Research

Dynamics, transition states, and timing of bond formation in Diels–Alder reactions
  — Prof. Kendall N. Houk
The Time-Resolved Mechanism of One of the Most Important Chemical Reactions

  Prof. Houk investigates the dynamics of Diels–Alder chemical reactions important in the synthesis of polymers, alkaloids,and steroids.



Organic Chemistry involves the study of the fundamental reactions used to make known and new molecules. Our chemists study the chemistry of DNA, proteins, and carbohydrates, the molecules of life, but also materials that have never before existed and promise to revolutionize the world.

At UCLA, organic chemistry faculty, students, and postdocs:

  • synthesize new molecules, including novel drugs, materials and catalysts
  • create molecular machines and electronic devices
  • study organic materials and develop new applications
  • invent new and perfect old synthetic methods for organic compounds
  • explore new ways to synthesize complex natural products
  • collaborate with biochemists, inorganic and physical chemists and engineers and medical doctors
  • explore mechanisms and selectivities of reactions using computational methods
  • formulate theory to understand structures and reactivities

Our fundamental research has profound impacts on all fields of chemistry and our department trains future leaders of academia and industry.

Our Research Facility

Professor Anne M. Andrews
Professor Anne Andrews’ research group is centered on understanding how the serotonin neurotransmitter system modulates complex behaviors including anxiety, mood, stress responsiveness, and learning and memory. The expression and function of the serotonin transporter is studied in human peripheral blood cells and lymphoblast cell lines, and in genetic and pharmacologic mouse models.
Professor Keriann M. Backus
In the area of chemical biology, the Backus Group combines chemical probe synthesis with activity based protein profiling and chemical proteomics to develop chemical tools to manipulate the human immune system. Research within the group spans chemical biology, organic synthesis, pharmacology, immunology, biochemistry and systems biology.
Professor Timothy J. Deming
The Deming group is focused on synthesis, processing, characterization and evaluation of biological and biomimetic materials based on polypeptides. His group utilizes innovative chemistry techniques to synthesize materials with properties that rival the complexity found in biological systems.
Professor Miguel A. Garcia-Garibay
Research in the Garcia-Garibay group is based on a deep knowledge of molecular and supramolecular structure to addresses questions of chemical reactivity and molecular dynamics in the solid state. By controlling reactivity and motion, they are able to engineer reactions in crystals, develop green chemical processes, and, with fine-tuned amphidynamic crystals, advance the development of artificial molecular machines.
Professor Neil K. Garg
Professor Neil Garg and his coworkers develop new reaction methodologies and synthetic strategies to prepare complex organic molecules. Specific areas of interest include cross-coupling reactions, green chemistry, heterocycle synthesis, and natural product total synthesis.
Professor Robin L. Garrell
Professor Robin Garrell explores the mechanisms of biological adhesion and the chemistry of surfaces and films. She is also developing microfluidics devices and biosensors.
Professor Patrick G. Harran
Professor Harran and his group explore new strategies for building complex small molecules. This includes both natural products and designed molecules. Structures having unique biological functions are of particular interest. The group uses its core strengths in synthesis to drive collaborative research in biology, pharmacology and medicine.
Professor Kendall N. Houk
K. N. Houk is the Saul Winstein Chair in Organic Chemistry. His group develops qualitative rules to understand reactivity, models complex organic reactions with computational methods, and experimentally tests the predictions of theory. Current interests include the computational design of enzymes to catalyze unnatural reactions, the quantitative modeling of stereospecific reactions used in synthesis, mechanisms and selectivities of organometallic reactions, studies of mechanisms and dynamics of cycloaddition reactions. especially bioorthogonal cycloadditions, the design, synthesis, and reactions of hemicarcerands and other host-guest complexes, and the computational design of organic materials for photovoltaic devices.
Professor Michael E. Jung
Professor Mike Jung explores innovative syntheses of natural products and molecules of pharmaceutical interest, notably, in the total synthesis of a large number of active antitumor and antiviral agents. The current cytotoxic targets include dichlorolissoclimide, tedanolide and 13-deoxytedanolide, aplysiapyranoids A-D, discodermide, dysidiolide, sclerophytin A, cylindramide A, and halomon and its alkene derivatives.
Professor Ohyun Kwon
Professor Ohyun Kwon’s research revolves around the development of new synthetic methodologies, target-oriented synthesis (TOS) of natural products, and diversity-oriented synthesis (DOS) of small molecule probes for chemical biological applications. The methodology research involves phosphine catalysis, the development of novel chiral phosphines, asymmetric catalysis, and pericyclic reactions of nitrodienes.
Professor Heather D. Maynard
The Maynard group focuses on polymer chemistry and nano medicine. We design and synthesize polymeric mimics of natural molecules with the purpose of stabilizing proteins and siRNA. These materials are applied to wound healing, diabetes, and for the treatment of cancer. We also prepare polymers for conjugation of proteins to surfaces in specific orientations for diagnostics and biomaterials that control cell behavior.
Professor Craig A. Merlic
Professor Craig Merlic develops novel synthetic methods based on organometallic reactions and applies these to natural product synthesis.
Professor Hosea M. Nelson
Professor Hosea Nelson and his colleagues develop novel methodology aimed at the construction of complex, bioactive molecules. His group utilizes concepts in organometallic chemistry and main group chemistry to facilitate the discovery of new organic transformations. Of particular interest are transformations of simple hydrocarbon substrates through polycyclization processes.
Professor Yves F. Rubin
Professor Yves Rubin develops novel derivatives of fullerenes and synthesizes carbon-based materials for applications such as organic solar cells and nanocomputing devices. These projects round out this unusually strong group designing and synthesizing architecturally novel organic materials.
Professor Ellen Sletten
The Sletten Group exploits the unique properties of fluorinated materials to develop diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. Research within the group encompasses an interdisciplinary mix of organic synthesis, fluorous chemistry, chemical biology, nanoscience, supramolecular chemistry, polymer synthesis, photophysics and pharmacology.
Professor Alexander Spokoyny
Research in the Spokoyny laboratory is devoted towards establishing new synthetic avenues, structural understanding, and applications for inorganic and organomimetic clusters. These efforts will reveal novel and potentially useful solutions to important problems in the field, including: catalysis, energy storage and selective recognition and labeling of biomolecules.
Professor Yi Tang
Professor Yi Tang is interested in natural product biosynthesis and biocatalysis. In the natural product area, he is interested in elucidating biosynthetic pathways of polyketides, nonribosomal peptides and related compounds. His goal is to understand the biochemical and structural basis of different enzymes encoded in these pathways. In the biocatalysis area, his aim is to engineer enzymes that can be used in the synthesis and semisynthesis of pharmaceutical compounds.