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September 12, 2012
K. C. Nicolau, Rice University, Six Million Dollars, And Malevolent Aliens
Well, an alert commenter to this post sent along this link to the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas grant site. And if you search for the phrase "R12KCN", you'll see six million dollars set aside for "Recruitment of Established Faculty", which Nicoloau's name attached.
So if this is going to happen, is it a good idea? I'm not asking if it's a good idea for K. C. Nicoloau; he's more than capable of looking after his own career. Is it a good idea for Rice, and for the CPRIT? The answer to that one depends on what everyone is looking for. If Rice is looking to make a big splash, that'll work just fine. But as another comment a bit further down in that above thread notes, this would be a departure for their chemistry department, because they'd actually de-emphasized organic synthesis a while back. Bringing in KCN will certainly re-emphasize it for them, if that's what they're after.
It's not where I would put my money, but (fortunately) I am not in charge of laying out millions to stock up a chemistry department. I've written several times (most recently here) about what I think of total synthesis at this point in the history of the science. If malevolent aliens suddenly filled our skies, threatening to vaporize the planet if we did not synthesize maitotoxin, I would unhesitatingly vote to give K. C. Nicolaou unlimited funding. That's what he does, and he's damn good at it. I just don't think - without the alien pressure and all - that it provides as much return for the time and money as other areas of science.
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