• Chemical Reactions For
    The 21st Century


    Julian G West, PhD

  • About Julian

    Pursuing Creative Solutions to Problems in Catalysis

    I am a professor of chemistry at Rice University and my group website can be found HERE.


    I am a Canadian-American chemist who firmly believes that doing chemistry sustainably and environmentally responsibly is one of the grand challenges facing the world today. From my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) studying safe, light-driven fluorination reactions with Prof. Glenn M. Sammis to my doctoral research at Princeton University designing reactions catalyzed by earth-abundant elements with Prof. Erik J. Sorensen, I have been driven to invent chemical processes that are safe, sustainable, and useful. This passion for green chemistry continued as a NIH and Resnick Sustainability Institute postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, where I worked with Profs. Harry Gray and Brian Stoltz to develop new electrocatalytic methods for producing low carbon fuels, pharmaceuticals, and high-performance materials.


    My research on sustainable catalytic methods at Rice has made impacts on the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals of affordable and clean energy and responsible production and consumption. I also work to increase public appreciation and understanding of chemistry by writing magazine articles and giving public outreach talks. I strongly believe in increasing diversity in chemistry and am working to help make this reality, from mentoring underrepresented undergraduate students to attending National SACNAS Meetings. I strive to advance interdisciplinary and international collaboration in chemistry through participating in two national NSF centers, the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization and Center for Solar Fuels. I became connected with peers across the US, in Japan, and in South Korea through these Centers and am excited to continue working with them as an independent researcher.

  • Education

    California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

    Postdoctoral Fellow (Chemistry) 2017-2019

    Advisors: Harry B. Gray and Brian M. Stoltz


    Project: Designing and developing new electrocatalytic methods for C–H functionalization


    IUPAC Periodic Table of Younger Chemists ("Au") • 2018 CAS Scifinder Future Leader • DOW Student Innovation in Sustainability Challenge Award (Runner Up) • NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship • Resnick Sustainability Institute Prize Postdoctoral Fellowship

    Princeton University

    Ph.D. (Chemistry) 2013-2017

    M.A. (Chemistry, Distinction) 2014

    Advisor: Erik J. Sorensen
    Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Award • Alfred Bader Award For Student Innovation • NSF CCHF Virtual Institutes for C–H Functionalization Workshop Fellowship • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship • NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship Doctoral (3) • Walker-McKinney Life Sciences Fellowship

    University of British Columbia (UBC)

    B.Sc. (Honors, Distinction) - Chemistry - 2009-2013

    Advisor: Glenn M. Sammis


    Thesis: Development of new photodecarboxylation reactions


    President's Entrance Scholarship • Alexander Rutherford Scholarship

  • Awards and Recognitions

    2022 - The Research Corporation for Science Advancement

    The Cottrell Scholar program honors and helps to develop outstanding teacher-scholars who are recognized by their scientific communities for the quality and innovation of their research programs and their potential for academic leadership.

    2022 - UBC Department of Chemistry

    This award recognizes an alumnus whose accomplishments are of such excellence that they provide inspiration and leadership to students and other alumni. The recipient has shown significant leadership either in their professional career and/or community service.

    Edward and Fofo Lewis Chemistry Research Award

    2022 - Rice Department of Chemistry

    This award is provided in recognition of excellent research in chemistry and for outstanding service to the Department of Chemistry and Rice University.

    2022 Career Champion for Rice Undergraduates

    2022 - Rice Center for Career Development

    A recognition for efforts in advancing the Center for Career Development’s mission of educating, connecting, and empowering Owls to find and make their place in the world. This award is by nomination by members of the undergraduate class of 2020.

    2022 - Thieme Chemistry

    The Thieme Chemistry Journals Award is presented every year to up-and-coming researchers worldwide who are in the early stages of their independent academic career as assistant or junior professors. The awardees are selected exclusively by the editorial board members of SYNTHESIS, SYNLETT, and SYNFACTS who constantly watch out for promising, young individuals working in chemical synthesis and catalysis or closely related areas of organic chemistry.

    Since 1999 – when the award was given for the first time to young researchers – it is its aim to send a sign of recognition and career encouragement to the new generation of organic chemists.

    2021 - ACS Petroleum Research Fund

    The Doctoral New Investigator grants program aims to promote the careers of young faculty by supporting research of high scientific caliber, and to enhance the career opportunities of their undergraduate/ graduate students, and postdoctoral associates through the research experience.

    2021 - The National Institutes of Health - National Insitute of General Medical Sciences

    The NIGMS ESI MIRA is a grant to provide support for a program of research in an early stage investigator's (ESI) laboratory that falls within the mission of NIGMS. For the purposes of MIRA FOAs, a research program is defined as a collection of scientific projects in an investigator’s lab that are related to the mission of NIGMS. The purpose is to increase funding stability while offering investigators the flexibility to follow important new research directions as opportunities arise; to more widely distribute funding among NIGMS investigators and increase the efficiency and efficacy of NIGMS funding; to reduce time spent writing, reviewing and managing multiple research grants and thus provide more time for research and mentoring junior scientists

    2021 - Rice Graduate Student Association

    The GSA annually confers five awards in recognition of exemplary service to graduate students at Rice University. Recipients for the Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award are selected based on demonstrated commitment to graduate education on teaching graduate students at Rice. 

    2020 - Forbes Magazine

    Every year, Forbes selects individuals to join a global community of bold, innovative young leaders who are changing the course and face of business and society. I was selected for the "Science" list.

    2019 - IUPAC and Zhejiang NHU

    This new collaborative award in Green Chemistry has been established to encourage young and experienced chemists, and to emphasize the importance of advancements in Green Chemistry and the value of sciences to human progress.

    2019 - Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas

    CPRIT bolsters cancer research by providing financial support to attract world-class scientists to Texas universities and cancer research institutes. This gives Texas a competitive edge in recruiting the world’s researchers—advancing cancer research efforts and promoting economic development in the State of Texas. These outstanding scientists greatly enhance programs of scientific excellence and position Texas as a leader in the fight against cancer.


    Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members as CPRIT scholars is by award of a $2 million research grant.

    Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator

    2019 - Robert A. Welch Foundation

    An Endowed Junior Research Chair at Rice University created by the Robert A. Welch Foundation in honor of Norman Hackerman, the former chair of the Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board and a Rice faculty member.

    2018 - IUPAC and the International Younger Chemists Network

    In celebration of the 100th anniversary of IUPAC and the International Year of the Periodic Table, IUPAC and IYCN announce the creation of a Periodic Table of Younger Chemists. Beginning in July 2018 and ending in July 2019 at the World Chemistry Congress and IUPAC General Assembly, we will honor a diverse group of 118 outstanding younger chemists from around the world who in embody the mission and core values of IUPAC. The resulting periodic table will highlight the diversity of careers, creativity, and dedication of the young chemists leading us into the next century. Winners will be profiled on the IUPAC100 website and will receive a certificate from IUPAC. Elements of the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists will be revealed over time in order of scientific discovery (see Wikipedia). Approximately eight elements will be revealed each month beginning in July 2018 with the final elements being awarded at the IUPAC General Assembly and World Chemistry Congress in Paris, France in July, 2019.

    2018 - Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS)

    The CAS SciFinder Future Leaders program aims to expand professional networks among emerging researchers, increase knowledge and exchange ideas about the role of information within the research process, and learn from industry and academic leaders about the role of science in the global economy, academia and the media. Future Leaders will also visit centers of innovation and technology in Columbus to broaden their understanding of the scientific enterprise, and also contribute to shaping the future of scientific research by sharing their experiences using information solutions, including CAS’s innovative workflow solution, SciFinder.

    Program participants were chosen based on their impressive academic accomplishments and the scientific merit of their research. The program has seen rapid growth and is now recognized as the premier program of its kind. Celebrating its ninth year, CAS received the highest number of applications across the widest geographical range since its inception in 2010. Alumni from this program have been a part of noteworthy scientific innovations and research, and are influencing future scientists through their demonstrated leadership.

    2017 - Caltech and The Dow Chemical Company

    Caltech's Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) is a prize program, established by Dow, to recognize and reward students for their innovation and research aimed at finding sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

    2017 - The National Institutes of Health - National Institute of General Medical Sciences

    The purpose of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (Parent F32) is to support promising applicants during their mentored postdoctoral training under the guidance of outstanding faculty sponsors. The integrated program of research and training should enhance the individual’s potential to develop into a productive, independent researcher. The training plan should document the need for, and the anticipated value of, the proposed mentored training in relationship to the individual’s research career goals. The training plan should also facilitate the fellow’s transition to the next stage of his/her career.

    2017 - The Resnick Sustainability Institute

    The Resnick Sustainability Institute Prize Postdoctoral Fellowships were created to engage outstanding recent graduates in projects that explore new directions in sustainability focused scientific research at Caltech. The Fellowships are intended for exceptional young scientists and fellows will be selected on the basis of their academic achievement and the promise of their scientific research.

    2017 - NSF Center for Selective C–H Functionalization

    I was supported by the NSF–CCHF during the summer of 2017 to help develop a C–H functionalization user manual in collaboration with MilliporeSigma. We hope that this guide will be a useful resource for the practicing synthetic chemist and an enduring contribution of the NSF–CCHF.

    2017 - The ACS Green Chemistry Institute/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

    The award provides national recognition and honor for outstanding student contributions to furthering the goals of green chemistry through research and/or studies. This includes but is not limited to the research, development, and implementation of fundamental and innovative chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use, and that have the potential to be utilized in achieving national pollution prevention goals.

    2016 - MilliporeSigma

    One of six graduate students selected nationally. The award recognizes student-driven innovation in: 1) development of new reagents, catalysts and ligands broadly applicable to synthetic organic chemistry; 2) creative use of current reagents, catalysts and ligands in methodology or total synthesis projects; and/or 3) application of, or use of synthetic chemistry, to develop novel tools for probing biological systems.

    2016 - NSF Center for Selective C–H Functionalization

    An award made by the NSF-Virtual Institute for C–H Functionalization to attend the 2016 Osaka-CCHF Joint Meeting On C–H Activation in Osaka, Japan and the 2016 International C–H Functionalization Workshop at the Institute of Transformative Biomolecules in Nagoya, Japan.

    2015 - National Science Foundation

    The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.

    2015 - National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

    The Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships-Doctoral Program (CGS D) and NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships-Doctoral Program (PGS D) provide financial support to high calibre scholars who are engaged in a doctoral program in the natural sciences or engineering.

    This fellowship was declined due to full support being provided by the NSF-GRFP.

    2014 - Princeton University

    A Princeton University fellowship awarded to a top first-year student interested in organic or biochemistry, or other chemistry with medical implications.

    President's Entrance Scholarship

    2009 - University of British Columbia

    University of British Columbia recognizes high school and post-secondary students for academic excellence through the President's Entrance Scholarships.

    2009 - Alberta Student Aid

    The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize and reward academic achievement at the senior high school level and to encourage students to pursue post-secondary studies.

  • Chemical Design Goals

    Simply making a chemical transformation possible is not good enough. As synthetic chemists, we must raise the bar of our science to ensure that the processes we develop are sustainable and responsible over their entire lifetimes.  I work towards achieving these goals by ensuring that all reactions I design are:



    catalysts or precatalysts should be 0-1 step from commercial materials and air stable



    catalysts should use earth abundant elements and be powered by light or renewable electricity



    reaction design should combine knowledge across disciplines to provide creative solutions

  • Mentored Publications

    See my group website for independent publications spearheaded by fantastic coworkers!

    West, J.G. Science 2017, 355, 1090.

    A contribution to Science's "Working Life" series describing how maintaining a broad knowledge across disciplines is essential to my pursuit of research.

    West, J.G.*; Sorensen, E.J. Isr. J. Chem. 2017, 57, 259–269.

    The alkene is a central functional group in organic synthesis. While myriad reliable methods exist to access this moiety from other functionalities, acceptorless dehydrogenation, or the direct synthesis of alkenes from alkanes with hydrogen gas as the sole byproduct, remains a challenging, albeit highly desirable, transformation. This essay provides an account of our recent efforts toward accessing this difficult reaction class, with particular attention paid to the diverse precedents that informed our explorations. This report highlights the benefits of maintaining a broad range of interests, and we hope that it illustrates the vast connectivity between chemical disciplines.

    Abrams, D.J.; West, J.G.; Sorensen, E.J. Chem. Sci. 2017, 8, 1954–1959.

    Dehydroformylation, or the reaction of aldehydes to produce alkenes, hydrogen gas, and carbon monoxide, is a powerful transformation that is underdeveloped despite the high industrial importance of the reverse reaction, hydroformylation. Interestingly, nature routinely performs a related transformation, oxidative dehydroformylation, in the biosynthesis of cholesterol and related sterols under mild conditions using base-metal catalysts. In contrast, chemists have recently developed a non-oxidative dehydroformylation method; however, it requires high temperatures and a precious-metal catalyst. Careful study of both approaches has informed our efforts to design a base-metal catalyzed, mild dehydroformylation method that incorporates benefits from each while avoiding several of their respective disadvantages. Importantly, we show that cooperative base metal catalysis presents a powerful, mechanistically unique approach to reactions which are difficult to achieve using conventional catalyst design.

    West, J.G.; Bedell, T.A.; Sorensen, E.J. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, 55, 8923-8927.

    The fluorination of unactivated C(sp3)−H bonds remains a desirable and challenging transformation for pharmaceutical, agricultural, and materials scientists. Previous methods for this transformation have used bench-stable fluorine atom sources; however, many still rely on the use of UV-active photocatalysts for the requisite high-energy hydrogen atom abstraction event. Uranyl nitrate hexahydrate is described as a convenient, hydrogen atom abstraction catalyst that can mediate fluorinations of certain alkanes upon activation with visible light.

    The most-accessed Angewandte Chemie International Edition paper for June 2016Highlighted in Nature Chemistry • Highlighted in OPRD

    Liu, J.; Bedell, T.A.; West, J.G.; Sorensen, E.J. 2016, 72, 3579-3592.


    The discovery and development of new anti-infectives is an important contemporary challenge to modern society. This challenge must be met with matching creativity and enthusiasm by chemists to avoid losing the battle with emerging strains of drug-resistant microbes. A series of case studies from our lab are presented, demonstrating our continued efforts in the areas of synthetic design, total synthesis of natural products, structure revision, and bioactive scaffold diversification. Together, these are used to highlight the power and utility of chemical synthesis to uniquely address challenges in the discovery and development of novel antibiotic compounds, particularly within the context of natural products scaffolds

    West, J.G.; Huang, D.; Sorensen, E.J. Nature Commun. 2015, 6, 10093.

    The dehydrogenation of unactivated alkanes is an important transformation both in industrial and biological systems. Recent efforts towards this reaction have revolved around high temperature, organometallic C–H activation by noble metal catalysts that produce alkenes and hydrogen gas as the sole products. Conversely, natural desaturase systems proceed through stepwise hydrogen atom transfer at physiological temperature; however, these transformations require a terminal oxidant. Here we show combining tetra-n-butylammonium decatungstate (TBADT) and cobaloxime pyridine chloride (COPC) can catalytically dehydrogenate unactivated alkanes and alcohols under near-UV irradiation at room temperature with hydrogen as the sole by-product. This noble metal-free process follows a nature-inspired pathway of high- and low-energy hydrogen atom abstractions. The hydrogen evolution ability of cobaloximes is leveraged to render the system catalytic, with cooperative turnover numbers up to 48 and yields up to 83%. Our results demonstrate how cooperative base metal catalysis can achieve transformations previously restricted to precious metal catalysts.

    West, J.G.; Sorensen, E.J. Science of Synthesis (S.A. Snyder Ed) Georg Thieme Verlag, 2016; pp. 1-46/

    Contributed chapter to the Science of Synthesis Reference Library Collection "Applications of Domino Transformations in Organic Synthesis" edited by Prof. Scott A. Snyder.

    The Diels–Alder cycloaddition has been a key component in innumerable, creative domino transformations in organic synthesis. This chapter provides examples of how this [4+2] cycloaddition has been incorporated into the said cascades, with particular attention to its interplay with the other reactions in the sequence. We hope that this review will assist the interested reader to approach the design of novel cascades involving the Diels–Alder reaction.

    Rueda-Becerril, M.; Mahe, O.; Drouin, M.; Majewski, M.B.; West, J.G.; Wolf, M.O.; Sammis, G.M.; Paquin, J.-F. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 2637–2641

    We have developed the first example of a photoredox catalytic method for the formation of carbon–fluorine (C–F) bonds. The mechanism has been studied using transient absorption spectroscopy and involves a key single-electron transfer from the 3MLCT (triplet metal-to-ligand charge transfer) state of [Ru(bpy)3]2+ to Selectfluor. Not only does this represent a new reaction for photoredox catalysis, but the mild reaction conditions and use of visible light also make it a practical improvement over previously developed UV-mediated decarboxylative fluorinations

    Leung, J.C.T.; Sazepin, C.C.; West, J.G.; Rueda-Becerril, M.; Paquin, J.-F.; Sammis, G.M. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 43, 10804–10807.

    Coming to light: The title reaction simply requires an aqueous alkaline solution of Selectfluor and light. The method is inexpensive and effective for a wide range of neutral and electron-poor 2-aryloxy and 2-aryl acetic acids to provide fluoromethyl ethers and benzyl fluorides, respectively. The mechanism most likely proceeds through an initial aryl excitation with a subsequent single-electron transfer

  • Science Communication

    Communicating the importance and relevance of science to the world is one of the most essential roles of scientists. This communication can take many forms; I've personally focused on speaking, writing, and social media.


    Across all these media, I strive to take my readers on a journey through real-life stories that make scientific concepts both engaging and accessible

  • Magazine Articles

    See my complete writing portfolio HERE.

    Nautilus • May 24, 2018

    A dispatch from the front lines of the war against antibiotic resistance.

    The Atlantic • April 2, 2018

    Before two deadly nuclear mishaps, scientists used to risk “tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon.” An Object Lesson.

    The Atlantic • January 16, 2018

    Elixir Sulfanilamide was a breakthrough antibiotic—until it killed more than 100 people. An Object Lesson.

    The Escapist • October 24, 2011

    The skills needed to excel in organic chemistry are actually not all that different from those needed to succeed in the video game series Pokemon

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