Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2019 New Initiative Grant

Andrew J. Gellman, Ph.D. (PI) Lord Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Materials Science

David Waldeck, Ph.D. (co-investigator) Professor of Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh

Spin chemistry as the basis for enantioselective surface chemistry


Molecular chirality is a geometric property of molecules that, like a pair of hands, exist in two structures (enantiomers) that are non-superimposable mirror images. Enantiomeric purity can be very important for pharmaceuticals because they can have vastly different physiological impact; while one is therapeutic, the other can be toxic. The design and synthesis of enantiomerically pure molecules with a desired enantiospecific function is one of the most challenging forms of chemical synthesis and processing because the two enantiomers have identical physical properties. Work over the past two decades has shown that the interaction of chiral molecules with electrons depends on the electron spin orientation and the molecule’s enantiomeric form. Recent work shows that in externally applied magnetic fields ferromagnetic surfaces can induce enantioselective adsorption wherein enantiomers are selected by the orientation of the surface magnetization. We aim to exploit the relationship between molecular chirality and electron spin to realize enantioselective control over the chemistry of chiral molecules on magnetized surfaces. Such control offers the potential to open an entirely new route to producing and purifying single enantiomers of chiral pharmaceuticals via the use of applied magnetic fields and ferromagnetic surfaces. The proposed research aims to identify the origins of magnetic surface-enantiomer interactions and to exploit this phenomenon for development of new enantioselective chemical processes. This will open the door to a new strategy for adsorption-based purification of enantiomers and, perhaps to enantiospecific catalytic synthesis on magnetized surfaces.

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