Academics & Research

Professor awarded for strides in organic chemistry

Associate professor of chemistry Olafs Daugulis’s work has been used in the pharmaceutical industry. Now, he’s being rewarded with a grant from the American Chemical Society. | Tristan Rieckhoff/The Daily Cougar

Associate professor of chemistry Olafs Daugulis has been named one of 10 Arthur C. Cope Scholars for 2014 by the American Chemical Society. The award, $5,000 in cash and a $40,000 research grant, is for excellence in organic chemistry.

Daugulis and his team of student research assistants seek to simplify the process that converts carbon-hydrogen bonds into other more complex groupings. Their chemistry is being used by the pharmaceutical industry and has applications for creating the precursors to polymers.

By reducing processes that required many steps to just one, according to Daugulis, they have created more ecologically friendly processes that require less labor and waste and fewer byproducts.

He said his research will not “cure cancer or prevent meteor strikes” but will result in gradual improvements to the science itself.

“I don’t work here to win awards,” Daugulis said — though he has earned five major awards since joining UH in 2003. “I work here to do what I like. If they give me awards, I am happy about that. In the grand scheme of things, it’s nice, but nothing more. Ultimately, we are here to teach students.”

Daugulis says his success is enabled by a well-run chemistry department, excellent colleagues, an established chemical industry that attracts young talent to the state and the ability for students to perform research relatively cheaply at UH.

“If they start charging tuition … then this will change and there will be no advantage to doing research here,” Daugulis said. 

James Roane, a doctoral candidate learning under Daugulis, said the associate professor has high standards, a strong work ethic and a knack for identifying solvable problems.

“He is very much looking for solutions that are practical and methods that focus on efficiency and cutting costs,” Roane said.

The annual award goes to 10 recipients at different stages of their careers. It was established by the estate of an influential American chemist, Arthur C. Cope, who pushed the boundaries of organic chemistry in the first half of the 20th century.

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