Professor M. Christina White has been named the William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor in the School of Chemical Sciences.
The Lycans were both Illinois alumni, and the professorship honors White’s world-class achievements in synthetic organic chemistry. The appointment was recommended by an ad hoc committee of distinguished colleagues whose recommendation was reinforced by very strong external reviewers.
Professor White earned a B.A. with highest honors in Biochemistry from Smith College in 1992. She earned her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology under advisor Eric N. Jacobsen at Harvard University 1999-2002. She joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005.
White is an international leader in the highly competitive area of C-H activation where she has made a diverse set of seminal contributions. An obvious sign of this is having a catalyst, the “White catalyst,” named after her. One key breakthrough that White’s research enabled was to eliminate the need for “directing groups” to substitute chemical groups instead of the hydrogen atom in an aliphatic carbon-hydrogen (C-H) group. Equally important is her streamlining of so-called “late stage” oxidation reactions when a C-H group sits near a double bonded carbon pair.
White’s research has also enabled “amination” to C-H groups using environmentally sustainable manganese phthalocyanine catalysts. These new catalysts enable reactions that no one has ever been able to do before.