Monday, September 26, 2022

Chemistry professor named Welch Distinguished University Chair

Chemistry professor named Welch Distinguished University Chair

JULY 13, 2021 — UTSA faculty member Oleg Larionov, an associate professor with tenure in the College of Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, has been named a Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair effective September 1, 2021. This prestigious appointment will provide resources and funding for Larionov to pioneer bold new ideas within the field of synthetic organic chemistry.

The Welch Foundation is one of the largest and most established private funding sources for chemistry research in the nation. The foundation primarily supports research scientists at Texas institutions of higher education. An endowed chair is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a faculty member. To meet the selection criteria, candidates must demonstrate the highest level of performance and earn national and international recognition.

“Endowed academic positions such as the Welch Chairs are crucial to our efforts to cultivate and support outstanding faculty.”

“Dr. Larionov is conducting cutting-edge organic chemistry research right here in San Antonio that has strong applications to so many industries, including health care. We are grateful to The Welch Foundation for recognizing his ingenuity and impact in the laboratory and his leadership of the next generation of synthetic chemists,” said David Silva, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. “The Welch Foundation’s generous support of Dr. Larionov will accelerate UTSA’s vision to become a nationally recognized research institution.”

In 2011, UTSA received funding from The Welch Foundation to establish its first Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in the Department of Chemistry. Through the ongoing support of The Welch Foundation, the university has been able to recruit and retain several prominent chemists who are making significant research contributions. Larionov joins Kirk Schanze as UTSA’s second Welch Chair.

“We are pleased to support the impressive research efforts being made by exceptional professors like Dr. Oleg Larionov at UTSA,” said Adam Kuspa, president of The Welch Foundation. “By offering Dr. Larionov more tools to be successful, we are creating additional opportunities for research advancement in the areas of medicine and materials science.”

Larionov is an organic chemist whose research focuses on natural product synthesis and new chemical reaction development. His past projects include synthesizing plant-based compounds to be utilized as cancer treatments, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

As a postdoctoral researcher, Larionov collaborated with renowned chemist E.J. Corey, recipient of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Larionov began his scholarly career at UTSA in 2010 as a Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund Fellow. The Voelcker Fund is a local private foundation that supports medical research in San Antonio and Bexar County.

“We are grateful to The Welch Foundation for its ongoing support of academic excellence at UTSA and congratulate Dr. Larionov on this well-deserved recognition,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, UTSA provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Endowed academic positions such as the Welch Chairs are crucial to our efforts to cultivate and support outstanding faculty, who in turn provide outstanding educational opportunities for our Roadrunner students.”

Larionov serves as the principal investigator on a National Institutes of Health-funded project that is aimed at developing innovative synthesis methods, specifically for organic substances that contain sulfur. These compounds play a critical role in drug discovery and materials science, but can be burdensome to produce. Over the past few years, Larionov and his team have successfully created a framework for chemists to produce organosulfur compounds in a way that is efficient and reduces chemical waste.

In July 2021, Larionov was selected as the principal investigator on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to develop new catalysts that will use the energy from visible light to create previously unknown chemical reactions. Research in this field could lead to breakthroughs that aid in the production of more efficient synthetic methods. These methods have the potential to expedite the discovery and development of new drugs that could be used to treat cancer and neurodegenerative and infectious diseases.

“The Welch Foundation will provide a unique opportunity to advance our research program to another level and is a recognition of the dedication and persistence of all my current and former group members,” Larionov said. “We will be able to provide more opportunities for our students to pursue their studies in synthetic organic, medicinal and computational chemistry, preparing them for increasingly interdisciplinary future research.”

Ryan Schoensee

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