For Fulbright Scholar Professor Dasan Thamattoor, Organic Chemistry is Global

Natural Sciences3 MIN READ
By Laura Meader
May 9, 2018

Professor of Chemistry Dasan Thamattoor is taking his research on the road.

Thamattoor has been named a Fulbright Global Scholar, an award that will allow him to conduct research in organic chemistry in Japan and the Czech Republic, and teach in Singapore. Several Colby student researchers will be in tow.

The prestigious award, which was recently announced, culminates a yearlong application process that included domestic and international peer review of Thamattoor’s proposal to investigate carbenes, short-lived and highly reactive chemical species that he has studied for more than two decades.

“They’re used to make catalysts and they’re used to synthesize important and interesting materials,” he said. “The homes we live in, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the pills we take when we get sick—they all go back to organic chemistry, and carbenes play a critical role in preparing high-value compounds.”

The challenge is studying such ephemeral species that live for a billionth of a second or so, Thamattoor said. One solution is to deep-freeze the carbenes so that their lifetime is extended long enough for examination by high-resolution spectroscopic methods, a technique he worked with in Germany with Colby student researchers in 2014-15 through a National Science Foundation grant. As part of this Fulbright award, the chemistry of carbenes will be studied using advanced laser technology to monitor their reactions and structures at normal temperatures in real time.

Thamattoor will be working in the laboratories of colleagues at Hiroshima University this summer and at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic during the summer of 2019. Results from these research trips will then be incorporated into an advanced organic chemistry course that he will teach at the Yale-NUS College in Singapore in early 2020. (He also noted that one of his former students, Stanislav Presolski ’05, is a professor at Yale-NUS College. Presolski is the namesake of a chemistry award at Colby known informally as “the Stan Award.”)

A recipient of the Charles Bassett Teaching Award at Colby, Thamattoor said in his Fulbright proposal that his true calling is working with undergraduates. Reflecting that, he is bringing four Colby student researchers—Thu Le ’19, Fini Just ’19, Jonathan Pankauski ’21, and Noura Srour ’18—to Hiroshima this summer. Their work is made possible through Thamattoor’s NSF research funds and support from the Provost’s Office and DavisConnects at Colby.

Thamattoor also pointed to the generosity of his collaborators in allowing undergraduates to take part in the research.

“These are all places that are high-powered research institutions driven by graduate students and post-docs,” he said. “The space, the work that they do, the equipment they are working with—these are not things that typical undergraduates would be exposed to. I think in many ways these are precisely the kinds of opportunities that make a place like Colby unique.”