Putting “umpolung” to work in synthesis of nitrogen-bearing stereocenters

Professor Li Deng‘s lab in the Brandeis Chemistry Department has recently published a high-profile paper in Nature, disclosing an important advance in the chemical synthesis of organic molecules containing nitrogen. Li Deng writeup 1

A great number of important drugs contain at least one nitrogen atom connected to a “stereogenic” carbon atom. Stereogenic carbons are connected to four different groups, making possible two different configurations called “R-” or “S-”. In synthesizing a drug, it can be disastrous if the product does not have the correct R/S configuration.  For instance, the morning-sickness drug Thalidomide caused birth defects in ~10,000 children because it was a mixture of R and S molecules.Li Deng writeup 2

Selective preparation of only R or only S molecules containing nitrogen is a major challenge in organic chemistry. Many recent approaches have formed such stereocenters by use of an electron rich “nucleophile” to attack an electron poor “imine”. Deng is now the first to report an unconventional strategy in which the polarity of the reaction partners is reversed. In the presence of base and a creatively designed catalyst, the imine is converted into an electron rich nucleophile, and can attack a variety of electrophiles. Deng’s catalysts are effective in minute quantities (as low as 0.01 % of the reaction mixture), and yield products with R- or S- purities of 95-98 %.

In addition to Professor Deng, authors on the paper included former graduate student Yongwei Wu PhD ’14, current Chemistry PhD student Zhe Li, and Chemistry postdoctoral associate Lin Hu.

Wu Y, Hu L, Li Z, Deng L. Catalytic asymmetric umpolung reactions of imines. Nature. 2015;523(7561):445-50. (commentary)

IrvFest 2015 – Friday, July 17

The IrvFest 2015 talks will be held in the Shapiro Campus Center tomorrow (Friday, July 17), starting around 8 am and running all day. The IrvFest 2015 schedule is available.

IrvFest 2015 is a celebration of Irv Epstein’s great contribution to science and the science community.

Here is datum from the Epstein group: A GIF of a spiral where the wave move toward the center of the spiral ( antispirals). If you find it hypnotizing, you might also find the talks tomorrow beautiful and interesting.

Here’s another cool GIF. For a more detailed explanation of the experiment see: hopf.chem.brandeis.edu.

There will be survey of work in the field presented by well respected members of the community, as well as some work that is semi- far afield where students and collaborators of Irv have settled down. Some of these talks will be more on the theoretical side and some will be experimental. Irv’s legacy is diverse!

Science Policy: Science for Policy or Policy for Science?

selimovicThis article was written by Jacqueline Jeon-Chapman. She is an undergraduate student who attended the MRSEC AAAS Policy event.

The Bioinspired Soft Materials MRSEC invited Dr. Šeila Selimovic, a Brandeis Physics Ph.D.’10, to campus on Wednesday, June 17th. In a room full of students, post-docs, staff, and faculty, Selimovic talked about her experiences working in science policy and gave practical advice to the audience about the career pathway. Her presentation was titled, “Science Policy: Science for Policy or Policy for Science?”

After working as a post-doc in labs at Harvard and MIT, Selimovic began her current fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. Through this job, Selimovic has attended a UN conference, arranged meetings between diplomats and scientists, and taught a course for educating government workers about nuclear energy. She said her job involves being able to do extensive research in a given field because she provides government officials with the most recent and relevant statistics on scientific questions.

Recently, Selimovic was asked to study nuclear power plants in Poland because many countries rely on Russian nuclear power plants for electricity. These power plants give Russia influence over other countries, so Poland has been considering replacing these power plants with ones built in other countries. Selimovic did research to provide her managers with information for a meeting with Poland.

During her presentation, Selimovic talked about her initial frustrations that she felt that government officials often prioritized economics and politics over science. As she learned more about her job, she came to accept that science is not the only important factor in making decisions.

Selimovic also gave advice about how to find a job as an AAAS fellow. She said she thought that her strong publication record made her stand out as an applicant. Interestingly, she noted that not all of her publications were primary journal articles. Her publication list included many short reviews on recent scientific publications that concisely explained the significance of the work in simpler terms. To future policy fellows, she recommended writing and publishing often and seeking out opportunities to enhance science communication skills. Selimovic also recommended the website Cheeky Scientist Association for learning how to network, writing a resume, and gaining other career skills.

Overall, she said that working in science policy involves more teamwork than in academic research—one person plays a smaller role in a project.



IGERT Summer Institute – July 27 to August 7, 2015

IGERTBrandeis is hosting a two-week summer institute for graduate students in the mathematical sciences from July 27-August 7.  This will combine the annual summer institute of Brandeis’ Geometry and Dynamics IGERT program, with a sequel to the US-India Advanced Studies Institute on thermalization, held two years ago in Bangalore.


  • Large deviation theory
  • Statistics of extreme events
  • The large N expansion in statistical and quantum physics
  • Statistical fluid dynamics
  • Quantum information and quantum gravity
  • Thermalization in Quantum Systems


Sumit Das (U. Kentucky)
Chandan Dasgupta (IISC, Bangalore)
Rajesh Gopakumar (HRI, Allahabad and ICTS)
Alex Maloney (McGill University)
Satya Majumdar (LPTMS, Paris)
Sanjib Sabhapandit (Raman Research Institute, Bangalore)
Peter Weichman (BAE systems)


Albion Lawrence
Bulbul Chakraborty


There will be no registration fee, but the venue will have limited capacity, so interested students should register by sending an email to Catherine Broderick (cbroderi@brandeis.edu) by July 4. Please list your affiliation, your year in graduate school, any publications, and the name of your PhD advisor.

Additional information can be found at www.brandeis.edu/igert/.

New Faculty Member Joins the Physics Department

A new faculty member is joining the Physics department starting on January 1, 2016.

W. Benjamin RogersW. Benjamin (Ben) Rogers is currently a research associate in Applied Physics at Harvard University under the supervision of Professor Vinothan Manoharan. Before coming to Harvard, he completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware.

Ben’s research focuses on developing quantitative tools and design strategies to understand and control the self-assembly of soft matter. He is interested in elucidating the role of specificity in complex self-assembly, designing responsive nanoscale materials by controlling phase transitions in colloidal suspensions, and understanding how coupled chemical reactions give rise to active materials, which can move, organize, repair, or replicate. At the intersection of soft condensed matter, biophysics, and DNA nanotechnology, his research utilizes techniques from synthetic chemistry, optical microscopy, micromanipulation, and statistical mechanics.

2 New Faculty Members Join Biochemistry

Tijana Ivanovic and Maria-Eirini Pantelia have joined the Biochemistry department. Both of the new faculty members will begin at Brandeis in January 2016.

tijana_photoTijana Ivanovic, is currently a postdoc at Harvard Medical School.  Stephen C. Harrison is her advisor. She received her PhD in Virology from HMS and her BS in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from UCLA.

Her research focuses on uncovering fundamental molecular mechanisms of virus translocation across biological membranes, in the distinct contexts of enveloped-virus membrane fusion and nonenveloped-virus membrane penetration.  She applies and develops advanced biophysical and biochemical approaches and combines them with those of virology, molecular biology and cell biology.

Dr. Ivanovic received a grant from the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program in 2011.

pandeliaMaria-Eirini Pandelia‘s ‘scientific journey’ started from Greece, where she received her undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Patras and master of sciences degree in applied Mathematics and Physics from the National Technical University of Athens. She carried out her graduate studies in Germany at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) of Chemical Energy Conversion (formerly known as MPI for Bioinorganic Chemistry) and received her doctoral degree from the Technical University of Berlin. This was followed by 3 years as a postdoc at PennState University in the Bollinger/Krebs laboratory.

Her research lies in the interface of Chemistry, Biology and Physics with particular focus on the study of metalloenzymes. Her work encompasses the combination of spectroscopic and biophysical techniques together with structural biology and phylogenetics to address the modus operandi of metalloproteins and bioinorganic complexes. Her main expertise is in Mössbauer and EPR spectroscopies coupled to time-resolved kinetics (optical, FTIR) and redox potentiometry. She is interested in understanding how diverse enzymes carry out their bio-transformations and how reaction selectivity in homologous proteins is achieved.

Maria-Eirini’s work at Brandeis will be centered on delineating the mechanisms according to which metalloproteins involved in processes essential for life perform the activation of small (or larger) molecules, how the specific identity of the metals in the active sites allows their chemical diversion and selectivity and what the functional role of iron-sulfur clusters in proteins involved in DNA synthesis and repair is.






What to do on a fine day in June?

It’s a perfect day out for fire extinguisher training…


Learn to use a fire extinguisher BEFORE the emergency happens

7 Division of Science Faculty Recently Promoted

Congratulations to the following 7 Division of Science faculty members were recently promoted:

katz_dbDonald B. Katz (Psychology) has been promoted to Professor of Psychology. Don came to Brandeis as an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Volen Center for Complex Systems in 2002 and was promoted to Associate Professor and awarded tenure in 2008. Don’s teaching and research serve central roles in both Psychology and the Neuroscience program. His systems approach to investigating gustation blends behavioral testing of awake rodents with multi-neuronal recording and pharmacological, optogenetic, and modelling techniques. Broad themes of the neural dynamics of perceptual coding, learning, social learning, decision making, and insight run through his work on gustation. For his research, Don has won the 2007 Polak Award and the 2004 Ajinomoto Young Investigator in Gustation Award, both from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences. Don has taught “Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience” (NPSY11b), “Advanced Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience” (NPSY197a), “Neuroscience Proseminar” (NBIO250a), “Proseminar in Brain, Body, and Behavior II” (PSYC302a), “How Do We Know What We Know?” (SYS1c). For his excellence in teaching, Don has been recognized with the 2013 Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer ’69 and Joseph Neubauer Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring, the 2006 Brandeis Student Union Teaching Award, and the 2006 Michael L. Walzer Award for Teaching and Scholarship.

Nicolas RohlederNicolas Rohleder (Psychology) has been promoted the Assistant Professor in Psychology. Nic is a member of the Volen Center for Complex Systems and on the faculty of the Neuroscience and Health, Science, Society and Policy programs. His course offerings include “Health Psychology” (PSYC38a), “Stress, Physiology and Health” (NPSY141a), and” Research Methods and Laboratory in Psychology” (PSYC52a). Nic’s research investigates how acute and chronic or repeated stress experiences affect human health across individuals and age groups. His laboratory performs studies with human participants using methods than span behavioral to molecular to understand how the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulate peripheral immunological responses and how these processes mediate cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and aging. His research and teaching fill unique niches for all his Brandeis departmental and program affiliations. Nic’s research excellence has been recognized outside Brandeis with awards including the 2013 Herbert Weiner Early Career Award of the American Psychosomatic Society and the 2011 Curt P. Richter Award of the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Matthew HeadrickMatthew Headrick (Physics) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Physics. He works at the intersection of three areas of modern theoretical physics: quantum field theory, general relativity, and quantum information theory. In particular, he uses information-theoretic techniques to study the structure of entanglement — a fundamental and ubiquitous property of quantum systems — in various kinds of field theories. Much of his work is devoted to the study of so-called “holographic” field theories, which are equivalent, in a subtle and still mysterious way, to theories of gravity in higher-dimensional spacetimes. Holographic theories have revealed a deep connection between entanglement and spacetime geometry, and Headrick has made significant contributions to the elucidation of this connection. Understanding the role of entanglement in holographic theories, and in quantum gravity more generally, may eventually lead to an understanding of the microscopic origin of space and time themselves.

Isaac Krauss

Isaac Krauss (Chemistry) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Chemistry. He is an organic chemist and chemical biologist whose research is at the interface of carbohydrate chemistry and biology. His lab has devised tools for directed evolution of modified DNA and peptides as an approach to designing carbohydrate vaccines against HIV. Krauss is also a very popular teacher and the recipient of the 2015 Walzer prize in teaching for tenure-track faculty.

Xiaodong Liu (Psychology) has been promoted to Associate Professor in Psychology. Xiaodong provides statistical training for graduate students in Psychology, Heller School, IBS, Neuroscience, Biology, and Computer Science, he serves as a statistical consultant for Xiaodong LiuPsychology faculty and student projects, and he performs research on general & generalized linear modeling and longitudinal data analysis, which he applies to child development, including psychological adjustment and school performance. He teaches “Advanced Psychological Statistics I and II” (PSYC210a,b), “SAS Applications” (PSYC140a), “Multivariate Statistics I: Applied Structural Equation Modeling” (PSYC215a), and “Multivariate Statistics II: Applied Hierarchical Linear Models” (PSYC216a). He is developing a new course on “The R Statistical Package and Applied Bayes Analysis”, and he recently won a Provost’s Innovations in Teaching Grant for “Incorporating Project-based modules in Learning and Teaching of Applied Statistics”.

Gabriella SciollaGabriella Sciolla (Physics) has been promoted to Professor of Physics. She is a particle physicist working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Sciolla and her group study the properties of the newly discovered Higgs Boson and search for Dark Matter particles produced in high-energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider. Sciolla is also responsible for the reconstruction and calibration of the muons produced in ATLAS. These particles are key to both Higgs studies and searches for New Physics.

Nianwen Xue (Computer Science) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Computer Science.  The Computer Science Department is pleased to annNianwen Xueounce the promotion of Nianwen (Bert) Xue to Associate Professor with tenure. Since joining Computer Science he has made significant contributions to the research and teaching efforts in Computational Linguistics, including growing a masters program from zero up to 18 students this year. His publications are very well regarded, and focus on the development and use of large corpora for natural language processing, especially in Chinese. He has built a sizable lab with diverse funding that students from around the world are vying to enter.

Thank you to the following department chairs for their contributions to this post:

  • Paul DiZio, Psychology
  • Jane Kondev, Physics
  • Jordan Pollack, Computer Science
  • Barry Snider, Chemistry

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