Two graduates are finalists for the 2020 Reaxys PhD Prize

Date

07/10/20
Kaibo Feng (left) and Mikiko Okumura (right)

Two recent PhD graduates from the Department of Chemistry are finalists for the 2020 Reaxys PhD Prize.

Kaibo Feng (PhD, White, '20) and Mikiko Okumura (PhD, Sarlah, '20) are part of the group of 45 finalists from all over the world, who are invited to attend the virtual Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Launched in 2010, the Reaxys PhD Prize celebrates innovative and rigorous research by ambitious early career chemical sciences researchers. This year, more than 400 entries from around the globe were examined by the Review Committee to arrive at the 45 finalists.

“This year continues the tradition of excellence of the Reaxys Prize in attracting hundreds of outstanding applications from all across the globe,” said Reaxys Advisory Board member Professor Donna Huryn, a Principal Investigator at the University of Pittsburgh Chemical Diversity Center. “Equally impressive are the 45 finalists, and that they represent the breadth of our field in terms of geography as well as discipline.  I am looking forward to what will be an exceptional symposium.’’

Feng, who was part of M. Christina White’s research group, will soon begin postdoctoral research at MIT.

White said Kaibo’s dissertation is one of the most impressive she has seen with respect to breadth and depth of original research.

“Kaibo pioneered a C—H methylation reaction that powerfully enables researchers to explore the ‘magic methyl effect’ directly on existing drugs and their precursors for increasing their potency,” White said. “He also contributed in highly impactful ways to C—H hydroxylation and amination by developing a strategy for reversibly attenuating the reactivity of basic nitrogens that is being used by us and others to effect late-stage functionalizations of important pharmaceuticals.”

Feng said he is honored to be chosen as a finalist.

“This is especially meaningful for me since Reaxys has been my primary tool for literature search since college. It’s a great way to conclude my graduate study here,” he said. “As I continue to advance my academic career, I’m excited to have this opportunity to promote my research to the worldwide scientific community and to meet all the young leading chemists at the symposium.”

Okumura said she is also very honored to be a finalist and thankful to Professor David Sarlah as well as the members of Sarlah’s research group who supported her throughout her PhD studies. Okumura is now doing postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

“This recognition is a strong encouragement for me to further pursue my career as an organic chemist,” she said.

Sarlah said Mikiko was one of the pillars of their research group, completed several projects involving methodology development and synthesis, graduated in less than five years and published 10 impactful papers during her time at Illinois.

“As a first-generation student in my laboratory, Mikiko initiated a research program involving novel dearomatization chemistry and established new synthetic approaches. Mikiko developed several novel transformations that drastically change how chemists can design and approach small molecules, providing novel pathways to biologically relevant compounds and drugs,” Sarlah said. “In addition to her outstanding scientific achievements, Mikiko also left a strong mark with us by being an amazing colleague and thoughtful mentor to several younger graduate and undergraduate students.”

During the virtual symposium, 10 short-listed finalists will give oral presentation of their research, and based on those, the Reaxys Advisory Board will select the three winners of the PhD Prize. The winners will be announced the final day of the symposium.

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