The Early Years. I was born in 1961 in Oceanside, NY, a Long Island suburb of The Big Apple, and grew up there until going to Haverford College, a small Liberal Arts college 10 miles west of Philadelphia.
What turned me on to organic chemistry. I took intro organic chemistry from Claude Wintner, who obtained his Ph.D. from R. B. Woodward, the greatest synthetic organic chemist ever. Claude had a very distinct style that was filled with wonder. I learned that organic chemistry is very different from other chemistry, particularly general chemistry. Structure is key as is mechanism. I learned that it is OK to find calculations of moles, pH, and enthalpy a bit dry, because there are concepts such as handedness, recognition, and reaction pathways that are far more visual and dynamic than general chemistry. Organic chemistry can be very creative and expansive; it is not as reductive as other areas can be.
As an undergraduate, I spent a summer in a research lab focused on development of anti-malarial drugs. We were cleaning shop one week and I was asked to clean up some compounds to ship off for screening for anti-cancer and other activity. I took some green sludge and after recrystallization I found a pile of beautiful sparkling white crystals. I recalled Claude Wintner encouraging us in labs to "watch the crystals grow." I realized that I was the only person on the planet to have this material in hand. And, unlikely though it may be, I realized that it was possible that this may be the cure to some disease. That was the end of my interest in drug discovery, but the concept of designing, making, and having a unique molecule has stuck with me.
Graduate School. After graduating from Haverford in 1983, I went West to UCLA. I first joined the group of Robert Stevens, a synthetic organic chemist who died during my first year. I then joined the group of Donald J. Cram, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987 for his work in creating the field of Host-Guest Chemistry. Don, who passed away in the Summer of 2001, was the most enthusiastic person I've ever met. He always seemed to be happy and never tired of talking about research and encouraging new ideas. With Cram, I learned how to design, synthesize, and characterize organic molecules and complexes that have well-defined 3-D structure.
Postdoc. After earning a Ph.D. from UCLA in 1988, I moved back to New York. I spent one year in the laboratory of E. Tom Kaiser at The Rockefeller University. Tom, a renown bioorganic chemist, had tragically died just before I arrived. I worked on peptide hormones that contained amphiphilic helices (alpha-helices with hydrophobic and hydrophilic faces). I discovered that I enjoyed designing, synthesizing, and characterizing any type of molecule that posesses well-defined 3-D structure, be it purely organic or a biopolymer. I then moved to New York University where I worked for two years with Neville Kallenbach, a biophysical chemist who was also interested in alpha-helical peptides and proteins.
UBC. I started at UBC in 1991 as an Assistant professor. I embarked on projests related both to my graduate work and to my postdoctoral work. The encapsulation work began as a direct extention of my graduate work, as I had some ideas that nobody else seemed inclined to pursue, so I felt compelled or it would never be explored. And Don Cram was very encouraging. He was nearing retirement at the time and wanted to see the work continued in some fashion, even though my interests were somewhat different from his. I also combined the two areas of my research experience by using the organic hosts as scaffolds to which could be linked helical peptides with well-defined secondary structural units. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 1996, and to Professor in 2001.
Education and Employment
Professor University of British Columbia Chemistry 2001-present
Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research Award, 2001; Awarded yearly to one organic chemist in Canada under age 40.
American Chemical Society
Committees, Boards, Symposia Organization
Organizer for the 7th International Conference on Calixarenes, 2003
1999-03 NSERC Research Grant
International Conference on Physical Organic Chemistry, San Diego, August, 2002.