The Ngai lab focuses on (i) developing novel and practical synthetic methodologies to address unmet challenges in organic synthesis and medicinal chemistry, and (ii) identifying and developing new radiotracers for Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging to elucidate disease mechanisms, identify drug targets, assess treatment efficacy, and accelerate drug discovery and development. 

Our research programs are multidisciplinary, covering organic and organometallic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, photochemistry, radiochemistry, and biomedical imaging.

Introduction and Exploration of Fluorinated Groups in Synthetic Chemistry

Fluorine has made a fundamental paradigm change in life science research and medicinal chemistry over the last 50 years. Fluorinated groups are often incorporated into organic molecules to enhance their lipophilicity, bioavailability, and thermal, chemical, and metabolic stability. However, our inability to facilely introduce fluorine and fluorinated groups into molecules of interest has limited their potential across a wide range of technological applications. Our research goals are (i) to develop novel reagents and operationally simple strategies to chemo-, regio-, diastereo-, and enantio-selectively install fluorinated groups into organic molecules, and (ii) to explore understudied fluorinated groups (e.g. ORf, NR1Rf, SF5, etc) in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and materials science. Accomplishment of these goals will accelerate drug/agrochemical discovery and development, improve the quality of health care products, and create new materials for biomedical and energy applications.

Visible-Light Photoredox Catalysis

Development of greener and milder reaction conditions for both known and new transformations poses a continuous challenge for synthetic organic chemists. Harvesting sunlight as an inexpensive, non-polluting, and abundant “reagent” for organic synthesis is very appealing. Although the first use of light as a renewable energy source for chemical reactions occurred more than a century ago, only recently has there been a surge of interest in applying visible light photoredox catalysis to organic transformations. This mode of catalysis relies on the general property that a photoredox catalyst has enhanced reducing and oxidizing power in its excited state as compared to its ground state. Our goal is to apply this general property to transition metal catalysis to enable new modes of chemical reactivity and unlock the potential of photoredox catalysis in organic chemistry.

Bio-Inspired Catalysis for Organic Synthesis

C–C and C–heteroatom bond forming reactions are vital to a broad range of areas including fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and materials. Therefore, the development of new catalysts for general, efficient, practical, and stereoselective C–C and C–heteroatom bond forming reactions stands as a critical goal in chemical synthesis. Although a considerable number of existing synthetic methods aim toward such goals, processes that streamline organic synthesis, minimize byproduct waste, and maximize atom economy are highly desired. Enzymes catalyze numerous chemical transformations under ambient conditions. Such mild reaction conditions are made possible through multiple cooperative activations of substrates in enzyme active sites. Drawing inspiration from such activation modes, one of our research programs is directed toward designing and synthesizing easily assembled multifunctional catalysts to enable direct regio-, chemo-, diastereo-, and enantioselective conversion of C–H and/or C–OH to C–C and C–heteroatom with hydrogen or water as the only byproduct. In specific, we focus upon direct stereospecific alcohol activation through the use of bifunctional catalysts, which comprises a Lewis acidic component and a nucleophilic component. Our goal is to facilitate the direct catalytic conversion of chirally pure alcohols to various chiral C–heteroatom bonds with retention of stereochemistry and water as the only byproduct.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Tracers for the Study of Human Diseases

Chronic inflammation is a common feature of numerous severe human diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and various neurological disorders. Understanding the mechanisms that govern inflammation in tissues and diseases should provide new strategies for therapeutic intervention, and accelerate drug discovery and development. Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) is a key protein kinase regulating numerous cellular functions, which has been implicated in governing inflammatory processes. Our research program aims at developing GSK-3b imaging probes for positron emission tomography (PET), a non-invasive in vivo imaging technology using radioactive tracers to visualize, characterize, and quantify physiological processes at the cellular level. This in vivo imaging technology will enable researchers to directly study GSK-3b. Our ultimate goal is to translate this technology to human PET imaging to elucidate disease mechanisms, identify drug targets, assess treatment efficacy, and accelerate drug discovery and development.

Ming-Yu Ngai

Ming-Yu Ngai
Associate Editor of Frontiers in Chemistry
Associate Professor of Chemistry,
Stony Brook University


  • Address: Department of Chemistry Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 11794-3400
  • ​Phone: (631) 632 2641
  • Fax: (631) 632 7960