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

Faculty Research Summaries

Professor Anne M. Andrews

Professor Anne Andrews’s Lab seeks to understand how neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, encode information related to anxiety, mood, and stress responsiveness. Nanoscale aptamer-field-effect transistor sensors, microelectrode voltammetry, and microdialysis methods are developed to probe neurochemical signaling at high spatial, temporal, and chemical resolution in vivo. Genetics, pharmacology, and developmental timing are used to investigate the etiology and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders and to advance personalized predictive medicine.

Professor Soumitra Athavale

The Athavale group has broad interest in synthetic organic chemistry, (bio)molecular evolution and chemical biology, with research encompassing four main themes: (1) synthetic methodology and biocatalysis, (2) design principles of synthetic evolutionary systems, (3) fundamental relationships in enzyme structure and function, and (4) engineering enzymes as next-generation therapeutics.

Professor Keriann M. Backus

In the area of chemical biology, Backus.research.summary.squarethe 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 Stuart Conway

The Conway Group uses organic chemistry to develop biologically active small molecules for medicinal chemistry and chemical biology studies in living systems. They have a strong interest in developing probes that modulate epigenetics processes, which are relevant for cancer and neglected tropical diseases. They also have expertise in developing pro-drugs that are activated in hypoxia, and imaging tools that enable the study of the tumor microenvironment..

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 Abigail Doyle

The Doyle lab conducts research at the interface of organic, organometallic, physical organic, and computational chemistry. Our goal is to address unsolved problems in organic synthesis through the development of catalysts, catalytic reactions, and synthetic methods. We apply mechanistic and computer-assisted techniques to the analysis of these reactions in order to uncover general principles that can guide the design of improved catalysts and the discovery of new reactions.

Professor Miguel A. Garcia-Garibay

Medium Organic.garibay.bromoResearch 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

Medium Organic.garg.mainThe Garg Lab develops synthetic strategies and methods that enable the synthesis of complex bioactive molecules.   Our specific interests lie primarily in three main areas: (a) transition metal-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions of unconventional electrophiles, (b) the use of historically-avoided strained intermediates, such as cyclic allenes and alkynes, in organic synthesis, and (c) the total synthesis of complex small molecules, such as drugs and natural products We also enjoy the opportunity to collaborate in areas such as natural product biosynthesis, green chemistry, solar cell technologies, THC detection, and studies of fundamental reactivity. 

Professor Patrick G. Harran 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

Medium Organic.haukThe Houk Group solves problems in organic and biological chemistry using theoretical andcomputational methods. Theoretical predictions and designs of new reactions, reagents, and catalysts are tested experimentally by a worldwide network of collaborators. The group is currently heavily involved in the study of dynamics of chemical reactions and the motions and properties of nanomachines.

Professor Michael E. Jung

Professor Mike Jung has switched his group fully to synthetic medicinal chemistry and already has two drugs on the market, Xtandi and Erleada, both for last-stage prostate cancer. He has 15 active collaborations with biologists both at UCLA and elsewhere. At the moment two of his new drugs are in phase 1 clinical trials, one for glioblastoma and one for solid tumors.

Professor Ohyun Kwon

At the core of the Kwon group’s research lies the design and development of new reactions and reagents that empower the chemical synthesis of natural products and unnatural small molecules of medicinal significance. One of the central themes of the group’s research is the redox-based deconstructive radical chemistry of terpenes, terpenoids, and commodity chemicals, whereas another involves enantioselective phosphorus organocatalysis and the development of novel chiral phosphines such as the HypPhos catalysts now sold by Sigma–Aldrich.

Professor Heather D. Maynard

Medium Organic.maynard.hydrogelsThe 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

Medium Organic.merlicProfessor Craig Merlic develops novel synthetic methods based on organometallic reactions and applies these to natural product synthesis.

Professor Matthew Nava

The Nava lab is interested in understanding how to efficiently translate molecular structure and reactivity to address challenges at the frontiers of materials, biological and energy conversion chemistries. Two broad thrusts will form the basis of the program: understanding and harnessing metals, particularly those in unusual oxidation states, in materials or biological systems and facilitating reversible chemical conversions to enable new energy storage technologies. In order to achieve these idealized goals, advancements must be made in the art of synthetic inorganic chemistry and accordingly, work in the Nava lab will focus at the interface of chemical synthesis and application.

Professor Yves F. Rubin

The Rubin Group is advancing the chemistry of carbon-rich molecules, including graphene nanoribbons and fullerene derivatives. These novel π-systems are endowed with exciting and unusual physical properties that make them ideally suited for next generation nanocomputing devices. We have been at the forefront of research in these areas, notably achieving the first synthesis of graphene nanoribbons from molecular precursors using only heat and light as reagents. Our ultimate goal is to use this methodology to fabricate nanoprocessors within the field of molecular architectonics.

Professor Ellen M. Sletten

Fluorinated.100x100The 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 M. Spokoyny

Research in the Spokoyny.somo.100Spokoyny 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

Medium Organic.tangProfessor 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.