From synthetic organic chemistry to process chemistry

28 Jan 2015

In September 2007, Igor Larrosa started his independent career as a Lecturer in synthetic organic chemistry at Queen Mary University of London, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2011 and to Reader in Catalysis in 2012. In 2014 Igor moved to the University of Manchester to take up the position of Professor of Organic Chemistry. He is a speaker at the upcoming Process Development Symposium (25 – 27 March, University of Cambridge), now in its 32nd year.

What sparked your interest in science?

When I think back, there was not one isolated event that triggered my interest in science. Ever since I was a kid I remember being very curious about how things worked and I enjoyed experimenting with chemistry and electronic kits. These early 'experiments' showed me how rewarding it could be to solve scientific problems.

What keeps you interested?

I find Chemistry fascinating on a daily basis, since there are always new problems and puzzles to solve. Moreover, when they are resolved they often lead to new ones that spark additional questions and challenges… so it is quite difficult to get bored!

What do you think are the main challenges facing scientists working in this area?

One of the main challenges chemists are facing nowadays is actually not of a scientific nature. Public perception of chemistry has been eroding over the years and we have allowed the word chemistry to become a synonym for 'bad'. It is incredible how much the word chemistry is misused to confuse the population and inspire fear, for the profit of a few. Chemical-free products, anyone?

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

One of the highlights has been, and still is, the chance to work with many inspiring students and researchers from all over the world! Another one was receiving a European Research Council grant early on in my career, which was a fantastic opportunity to build a well-sized group of talented co-workers that has allowed me to tackle various interesting challenges in C-H activation. The most recent highlight has been the move to the University of Manchester, which I am very excited about.

Would you have done anything differently?

I have no regrets. In research often you will take the 'wrong' turn and end up trying to solve a particular problem in the 'wrong' way. But that is also part of the process of exploration that makes it so much fun, and it can sometimes lead to unexpected ideas and projects that would not have been possible otherwise!

What would someone at the start of their career need to do to achieve what you have?

For researchers right at the beginning of their career I would advise them to choose carefully the groups where they carry out their PhD projects and later on their postdoctoral work, because these steps will have a strong influence on their future. They should work on a few different areas to broaden their knowledge, and I would advise them to start developing ideas for new projects as early as possible. Above all, they should make sure they follow their scientific interests.

If you had not pursued a career in this field, what would you have done?

I have always been fascinated with astronomy and exploration of space and performing research on these areas would have been an appealing career alternative.

I understand that you have recently gained a Professorship to the University of Manchester. Tell us a little bit about that.

The second half of last year was an extremely busy period! Everything happened very quickly from the initial contact with Manchester to moving there. That meant that I had many details for the move to sort out in a short amount of time. Fortunately, most of my group decided to join me in Manchester, which has been great and meant that we could continue with our research without too much of a hiccup. The University of Manchester has been very welcoming and I am looking forward to the new exciting research opportunities that this move has opened up.

You are going to be giving a presentation at the 32nd SCI Process Development Symposium this year (25 - 27 March 2015), in Cambridge. What led you to become interested in the area of Process Chemistry in particular?

During my PhD and postdoctoral research I did quite a bit of work on total synthesis. Optimizing 'large scale' (for an academic lab) processes in order to increase yields and access to significant amounts of key intermediates was essential to success, and as important as the development of a new synthetic transformation. So, whereas I am not strongly Process Chemistry oriented, I do think that it is very important to consider scalability whenever we are developing new reactions.

To hear Igor's talk on 'New developments in C-H arylation: reactivity and selectivity control', book on to the 32nd Process Development Symposium by clicking on the link below.

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