Innovative research on catalysis wins York professor two fellowships

York chemistry professor Michael Organ has won two fellowships worth a total of $85,000 in research funding to further his investigation into the field of catalysis – used to help find new drugs to treat disease and create new materials.

Founder and director of the Combinatorial Chemistry Facility at York, Organ received the Merck-Frosst Academic Development Program fellowship in 2007, along with $25,000 in unrestricted research funds, and the International Xerox Foundation fellowship, which came with $60,000 in unrestricted research funding at the end of last year.

Right: Michael Organ

Organ will accept his award from Merck-Frosst on Feb. 14. While there, he’ll deliver a seminar to Merck-Frosst’s scientists, titled "Microwave Chemistry: Going with the Flow", about pioneering work conducted by Organ’s group in the use of small-sized tubes or capillaries as reaction chambers, through which the chemical reaction is continuously flowed.

"This process dramatically increases the speed with which the reaction completes, makes handling much easier, and is more environmentally-friendly than conventional batch reactor flasks that serve as the current backbone of the chemical industry," said Organ.

This method speeds up and simplifies the process necessary to work up and purify reactions compared with conventional processes. That’s because the catalyst is being immobilized in these small tubes and the reactions are flowed over these same catalysts, referred to as catalyst beds.

"The catalyst has unique properties in terms of high reactivity, yet excellent stability. While it is capable of converting reactants to products in very short time periods, it also has great shelf life and is easily handled out in the air with no concerns for the chemist," said Organ.

This unique catalyst system, developed by Organ and colleagues at York, is now used by pharmaceutical and materials science companies worldwide for the discovery, development and production of new drug candidates and materials, and that’s exciting for this dual fellowship winner.

"This is enabling methodology that will enable other scientists around the world to greatly shorten the discovery process for many of the health and technology related advancements that propel our society forward," said Organ. "It is nice to be on the ground floor of such activity."

There has been much interest in Organ’s work with catalysis. Two articles by Organ, and several of his colleagues, introducing this new catalyst system were the most downloaded articles worldwide from Chemistry, A European Journal in 2006. "Easily Prepared Air- and Moisture-Stable Pd-NHC (NHC=N-Heterocyclic carbene) Complexes: A Reliable, User-Friendly, Highly Active palladium Precatalyst for the Suzuki-Miyaura Reaction" and "A User-Friendly, All-Purpose Pd-NHC (NHC=N-Heterocyclic Carbene) Precatalyst for the Negishi Reaction: A Step Towards a Universal Cross-Coupling Catalyst" were both published in the June 2006 issue.

The Xerox award has evolved into a collaborative project. Organ’s catalysts are being loaded into new flow-based reactors – that were developed in his laboratory – for the production of materials to be tested for applications in the printing industry.

In 1999, Organ received a Premier’s Research Excellence Award (PREA) for his work in combinatorial chemistry and for fundamental research in synthetic chemistry using transition-metal catalysis. The PREA is given to help gifted researchers in their work, and to improve Ontario’s ability to attract and keep highly-talented graduate students.

For more information, contact Organ by e-mail at