Considerans Gouden medaille 2016
Er gaat niets boven Groningen! There is nothing beyond Groningen. One can argue whether the Groningen countryside and culture, which are advertised with this slogan, are indeed special enough to warrant a visit. In terms of chemistry, in particular your field, organic chemistry, though…
The Groningen organic chemistry school has definitely reached a level that is hard to surpass. By other schools within the Netherlands, but also abroad. I think this is now pretty clear to everybody, and this makes Groningen definitely a place to visit for ambitious and talented chemists.
Chemists such as yourself. You visited Groningen twice during your career. First as a post-doctoral researcher, from 2003 to 2007. And again in 2010, when you took up your current position as an Associate Professor. I hope this award will convince you to stay in the Netherlands!
You have had an unusually international career so far. Prior to your Postdoc position in Groningen you studied pharmacology and pharmaceutical chemistry in Yerevan, in Armenia. You then obtained a PhD on organic and organometallic chemistry with professor Belokon, in Moscow. From 2007 to 2009 you were senior scientist with Janssen Pharmaceutica and since then you are at the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry in Groningen.
The quality and creativeness of your work has been recognised on several occasions. You received a VIDI grant in 2012. And, impressively given the list of former awardees, you received the Solvias Ligand Contest Prize in 2011. Previous awardees include some true masters in catalysis and asymmetric synthesis, such as John Hartwig, Eric Carreira and Bruce Lipshutz.
And also Ben Feringa. In his nomination he highlighted your post-doctoral work. He wrote, and I quote: ‘One particularly spectacular achievement is the design and synthesis, led by Suyzanna, of a molecule that is capable of propelling itself along a surface when excited by electrons, published in Nature’. The molecule we came to know as the first molecular four-wheel drive!
You have continued to excell in organic chemistry in your independent career. For this reason, specifically because of the creativity that you continuously show in organometallic chemistry and asymmetric catalysis, the committee selected you as the awardee of the 2016 KNCV Gouden Medaille. This was not an easy task since we had no less than fourteen excellent candidates.
You have developed ground-breaking methodology that allows enantioselective 1,2-additions to enolizable carbonyl compounds: a challenge that could not be met by asymmetric catalysis prior to your work. By doing this, you also showed that Cu(I)-based catalysts, which in the field of asymmetric catalysis were thought suitable only for 1,4-additions, can in fact also perform 1,2-additions. Most recently, published in Science, is your work on combining Lewis acids and Grignard reagents in the synthesis of chiral hetero-aromatic systems. Compounds that previously were difficult to prepare because of intrinsically inreactive starting materials. Compounds you can now make by using a combination of reagents I would have thought mutually exclusive. Compounds finally that may impact medicinal chemistry, since generic methodology for the synthesis of chiral heterocycles is scarce while such compounds hold great promise for drug discovery. And so you come full circle: you perform fundamental organic and organometallic chemistry at the highest level, and at the same time are aware of the needs and challenges pharmaceutical sciences are faced with!
Dear Syuzanna, I will end here. My congratulations, also on behalf of my colleague committee-members Thom Palstra, Jan van Esch, Bert Weckhuysen, Albert Schenning, Titia Sixma and Albert Heck. I wish you well in your future career and hope this award will inspire you to continue to do groundbreaking research in synthesis and catalysis.
Herman Overkleeft, chair
KNCV Gold Medal 2016 Committee