Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Q&A: Michael Doyle, UTSA Department of Chemistry

Q&A: Michael Doyle, UTSA Department of Chemistry

Michael Doyle is a renowned chemist with more than 30 years of research experience.

(May 30, 2018) -- Michael Doyle is the Rita and John Feik Distinguished University Chair in Medicinal Chemistry at The University of Texas at San Antonio. A renowned scholar with more than 30 years of experience in catalysis, which increases chemical reaction rates, Doyle is recognized for developing a processing system that is used prominently today in the development of pharmaceuticals.

Doyle joined UTSA in 2015. Since then, he has received several grants to support his research, among them an NSF grant that supported the acquisition of a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, which is several times more powerful than an MRI machine, and has since supported research across multiple disciplines.

Describe your current research. What impact do you hope your research will have?

My laboratory’s research is on catalysis and our focus with catalysis is to make new chemical compounds with high selectivity. Catalysts are materials that make possible a chemical transformation that would not occur in their absence, and a catalyst can direct a chemical reaction to produce only one product when many other products could also be formed, without being used up in the process.

My laboratory has a few general chemical reactions named for their inventors, including the Doyle-Kirmse reaction, and we are in the process of developing new chemical processes, each of which can prepare hundreds of new compounds that can then be evaluated for their biological activity. We hope to see our approaches to chemical syntheses broadly used and their applications able to prepare organic compounds that are of value to society.

Have you had any mentors? How do they inform what you do now?

Where I am today is the outcome of advice and assistance that I have received over the years from persons that I respected and were or are influential in the professional communities in which I have worked. In the beginning, it was my high school teacher who inspired me to continue in chemistry. At midcareer, it was several influential persons who brought me into professional positions where I had influence on others.

Even today, I look to others for advice, but at this stage in my life I have dedicated myself to being a mentor to others, hoping to open doors for them that would otherwise be closed or to present for them a pathway to their future that they did not anticipate.

What is one experience you’ve had as a professor that’s inspired you?

Working with undergraduate students early in their college careers. Part of my reputation as a research scientist was built upon research with rhodium acetate as a catalyst and the discovery of a chemical reaction known today as the Doyle-Kirmse reaction, but it was an undergraduate student working in his freshman year who actually discovered that reaction.

One of the first students who worked with me when I was an assistant professor performed research in his senior year – one summer and academic year – that resulted in seven publications in peer reviewed journals. Still another student, this time in the summer before his senior year, performed three six-step total syntheses of natural products using a new catalytic methodology. Both have been very successful in their professional careers. Both are prominent university professors.

What advice would you give students interested in conducting their own research?

Learn how to solve problems by getting involved in research early. Learn the technologies involved, manage your time effectively and be able to work efficiently. Continually practice being a good communicator. Not all experiments work the first time, and some not at all. Be observant and look for change. Be prepared for a roller coaster ride from the heights of new discoveries to the lows of experiments that do not work.

What do you think is the biggest challenge researchers in your field are facing?

Science is not held in the same esteem as it was in the 1950s and 1960s when Sputnik was an international concern, and President John F. Kennedy challenged us to reach for the moon. Fewer talented students are entering science today, and our government is funding science to a lesser degree than are many other developed countries.

The biggest challenges are having a talented workforce and sufficient financial support to conduct research. Less than 20 percent of research proposals in my areas of research are being funded. The instrumentation and facilities that allow us to see into the secrets of nature – the infrastructure – offer greater insights, but they are more complex and more expensive, and become increasingly distant in these times of constricted funding.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” – James Bryant Conant.

- Joanna Carver


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