The Ngai lab aims to establish catalytic platforms to edit and prepare organic molecules efficiently and selectively. Our research interest spans diverse disciplines, including excited-state/photoredox catalysis, and carbohydrate editing, and fluorine chemistry. We combine detailed experimental and computational studies to understand reactivity and mechanisms with which to guide the design of novel catalysts and applications in fields such as organic, organometallic, bioorganic, and medicinal chemistry. The ultimate goal is to contribute to humanity through transformative chemistry.
Excited-State/Photoredox Catalysis in Organic Synthesis
Excited-state catalysis, a process that involves one or more excited catalytic species, has emerged as a powerful tool in organic synthesis because it allows access to the excited-state reaction landscape for the discovery of novel chemical reactivity. This research program seeks to study and exploit this catalytic mode to (i) facilitate carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bond formation and (ii) rapidly modify and construct complex molecules. Accomplishment of these goals will establish new synthetic strategies that lead to otherwise poorly accessible or unobtainable molecular architecture and advance fundamental knowledge in excited-state and radical chemistry.
Molecular Editing of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are indispensable in many biological processes and have implications in numerous diseases such as cancer, viral infections, diabetes, and neurological disorders. Yet, selective modification and synthesis of carbohydrate derivatives remain a significant challenge in organic synthesis. This research program aims to develop new synthetic technology that can edit carbohydrates site-selectively and efficiently. Accomplishment of this goal will generate new glycomimetics to tackle fundamental questions in glycobiology and to design and develop new diagnostic probes, therapeutic agents, and vaccines against cancer and infectious diseases.
Molecular Valorization via Fluorine 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, there is a significant gap between the needs of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and the effectiveness of currently available technologies for the installation of fluorinated functional groups. This program aims to bridge this gap by developing bench-stable, easy-to-handle reagents and establishing operationally simple, scalable reactions to facilitate the incorporation of various fluorinated groups into complex molecules. 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.