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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« A Total Synthesis Archive | Main | Chemical Biology Highlights »

June 3, 2013

The Current Kudzu of Chemistry?

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Posted by Derek

Chemistry, like any other human-run endeavor, goes through cycles and fads. At one point in the late 1970s, it seemed as if half the synthetic organic chemists in the world had made cis-jasmone. Later on, a good chunk of them switched to triquinane synthesis. More recently, ionic liquids were all over the literature for a while, and while it's not like they've disappeared, they're past their publishing peak (which might be a good thing for the field).

So what's the kudzu of chemistry these days? One of my colleagues swears that you can apparently get anything published these days that has to do with a BODIPY ligand, and looking at my RSS journal feeds, I don't think I have enough data to refute him. There are still an awful lot of nanostructure papers, but I think that it's a bit harder, compared to a few years ago, to just publish whatever you trip over in that field. The rows of glowing fluorescent vials might just have eased off a tiny bit (unless, of course, that's a BODIPY compound doing the fluorescing!) Any other nominations? What are we seeing way too much of?

Comments (35) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News | The Scientific Literature


1. pcyb on June 3, 2013 8:47 AM writes...

CH activation and palladium cross coupling chemistry... alright, it has its merits... but every other paper seems to be a cross coupling reaction...

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2. Kent G. Budge on June 3, 2013 8:52 AM writes...

Same in other fields. When I was a graduate student in astronomy, way too long ago, it was hard to get a grant application through that didn't somehow relate to better determining Hubble's Constant.

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3. a. nonymaus on June 3, 2013 9:04 AM writes...

Aerobic oxidations. You can be in chlorobenzene at 150 degrees with 10% palladium catalyst loading under 10 MPa of oxygen, but if it uses oxygen as the terminal oxidant it becomes green chemistry. Similarly, people can get published for what seems to be rediscovering various autoxidations that are initiated by trace radicals from their catalyst support. These articles also tend to have some quite fanciful proposed catalytic cycles.

At least organocatalysis has finally peaked. (has it?)

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4. Anonymous on June 3, 2013 9:05 AM writes...

If you trip over anything with fluorine in it you get an Angewandte paper.

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5. AC on June 3, 2013 9:14 AM writes...


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6. Chemjobber on June 3, 2013 9:18 AM writes...

For a while there, it was Grubbs' catalyst.

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7. See Arr Oh on June 3, 2013 9:37 AM writes...

Woo boy. Hows about PKS? Nano-anything. Gold catalysis. And one cropping up evergreen: methane oxidation.

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8. Hap on June 3, 2013 9:47 AM writes...

I'd have a tough time choosing between organocatalytic Michael additions of nitro compounds, preparation of fluorides (I don't know if they're compounds that aren't really useful or if we haven't had enough different ones to see), or palladium-catalyzed oxidative coupling (yes, I know I don't have to brominate or diazotize/brominate, but multiple equivalents of silver carbonate or expensive fluorine source sdoesn't make me think that the reaction is going to be anything-economic).

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9. The Iron Chemist on June 3, 2013 10:25 AM writes...

Water oxidation. It seems like everything catalyzes it.

A couple of years ago, I would have said fluorescence imaging. If it glows, it goes... into JACS.

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10. imatter on June 3, 2013 10:29 AM writes...

It's not so much of what we're seeing too much of, but what gets published these days? Up-spin!
For 2006-2010 were the days of ionic liquids in Org. Lett. (what's going there nowadays?).

Oxidations seem to be the current trend.

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11. newnickname on June 3, 2013 10:30 AM writes...

A quick search of Pubmed finds over 600 publications on the subject of Pueraria (kudzu).

How about this one in Langmuir: "Preparation of bimetallic nanoparticles using a facile green synthesis method and their application." using Pueraria starch?

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12. Redlich-Kwong on June 3, 2013 10:30 AM writes...

Anything that's even remotely related to nano-particles. I'm tired of seeing how many ways doxorubicin can be released in SCID II or BALB/c mice.

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13. Anonymous on June 3, 2013 11:35 AM writes...

Back when I was in grad school in the early 2000's, folks would stick a protein on whatever they were working on in an effort to get NIH funding. I was an inorganic chemist back then, and nothing made me tune out a presenter faster than a slide full of squiggly-lined nonsensical-looking protein structures!

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14. Curious Wavefunction on June 3, 2013 11:59 AM writes...

Solvent-free synthesis, supercritical CO2, native chemical ligation.

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15. materials guy on June 3, 2013 12:09 PM writes...

Graphene. ugh.

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16. newnickname on June 3, 2013 12:13 PM writes...

FA Cotton lamented that, even at TAMU [an institution that you think could afford to take a few risks], they didn't always hire who he thought were the most creative or the brightest junior faculty with the most dazzling ideas but the candidates whose proposals contained dendrimers or fullerenes, the kudzu-du-jour.

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17. Anonymous on June 3, 2013 1:00 PM writes...

Photoredox synthetic chemistry using RuBPy and visible light. There is alot of it out there.

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18. karldcollins on June 3, 2013 4:26 PM writes...

I think Org Lett has a secret deal with the Lord of oxindole. Functionalise that alpha position an you are in!

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19. Justin Puekon on June 3, 2013 7:14 PM writes...

Anything green (e.g. green synthesis, green approach, green diesel, green grass, green kudzu, etc. Any green bullsh… is worth publishing).

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20. Young Padawan on June 4, 2013 5:58 AM writes...

To me it seems, there are a terrible lot of reactions out there that use some BINOL-Phosphoric acid, be it as an organocatalyst or chiral counter-ion in transition metal catalysis. I am again and again astonished what kind of "me too"-stuff you can get into an Angewandte.

How about frustrated lewis acid/base pairs just because you can.

I also agree with karldcollins on alpha fuctionalizations of oxindoles, mostly reported with some organocatalyst to make obscure building blocks that I've never seen being used for anything.

On the other hand, I'm attempting to synthesize a natural product that probably no one except me and my advisor cares about. So, who am I to judge...

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21. Neil on June 4, 2013 6:08 AM writes...

Apologies for trying to hijack the thread, but can I turn this question on its head?

What do you all think you *don't* see enough of?

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22. James on June 4, 2013 6:17 AM writes...

Graphene! That thing is everywhere, every week!

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23. Derek Lowe on June 4, 2013 7:33 AM writes...

#21 Neil - that's a good enough idea that I've started a new post just for it. This one can continue as a place to bury things; we'll praise the others over there!

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24. Anonymous on June 4, 2013 7:51 AM writes...

When I was an undergrad in the late 90s/early 00s, I recall seeing "host-guest chemistry" again and again as a research interest on big-university professors' websites. By the time I got to grad school, the fad was already passe.

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25. PedroS on June 4, 2013 8:58 AM writes...

Metal-organic frameworks

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26. John Wayne on June 4, 2013 9:42 AM writes...

My biggest pet peeve is seeing a table of compounds prepared with a given methodology that contains only monosubstituted benzene derivatives with no examples (or commentary) of aliphatic, heterocyclic, or more complex aryl systems.

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27. Anon on June 4, 2013 10:00 AM writes...

organic synthesis in "aqueous medium", Fe/Ni/Metal-free couplings

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28. Jordan on June 4, 2013 12:53 PM writes...

What's the criterion for "way too much" -- that the specified technology has outlived its usefulness, or that readers are tired of seeing papers about it?

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29. Hap on June 4, 2013 4:33 PM writes...

Mostly "tired of seeing it" - incremental advances that are really advances but involve essentially the same method over and over (also gives the impression that journal acceptance doesn't depend on quality of research but its consonance with the current round of buzzwords).

Low signal/noise ratio is another characteristic - the techniques described may not have outlived their usefulness, but the piles of papers titled with them haven't added much, either.

Finally, subjects with lots of papers that come nowhere near fulfilling the promises implied in the method would seem to be kudzu. "Solvent-free" reactions might constitute a reduction of total solvent usage, but if you have to extract your stuff out with lots of solvent and can't recrystallize it, then "solvent-free" is pretty much a lie. "Less solvent", yes, but not "solvent-free". At that point, the greenness of the process depends on lots of factors, not just a binary variable, and is going to be harder to consistently determine, both for editors and readers.

Just because you have a nice new hammer does not mean that everything is a nail.

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30. WB on June 4, 2013 9:12 PM writes...

Here are a few fads which failed to deliver and will hopefully disappear into oblivion.

1. buckyballs
2. graphene
3. stapled peptides

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31. Secondaire on June 5, 2013 8:12 AM writes...

Trifluoromethylation reactions. As useful as they are, I feel like it's become a bandwagon and EVERYONE now who's worth their salt is trying to find a way to jam -CF3 groups onto something.

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32. Jordan on June 5, 2013 10:55 AM writes...

@29 -- I agree with you that a "solvent-free" reaction that requires solvent-based extraction is not too useful, but reduction in solvent usage is a noble goal too.

In any case, usefulness is often in the eye of the beholder. For me personally, I could do with less organocatalysis and azide-alkyne click chemistry. And fullerene derivatives seem to be one of the materials of choice in the OPV world. With graphene it may be too early to tell.

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33. Hap on June 5, 2013 12:04 PM writes...

Probably. I like flow chemistry (I thought Blackmond's article was somewhat inaccurate, as there seem to be reactions - selective Grignards/organolithium reactions - which can't be run semibatch but can in flow or microflow systems), but numbering up is probably not as trivial as it seemed, or purification. Other people don't. Since we don't know know which variant of a technique will be most useful, culling based on interest is a bad idea (also because interest is what drives glamour results, and often those don't repeat at all).

Time is the ultimate arbiter of utility.

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34. Martyn on June 6, 2013 6:42 AM writes...

Isocyanides get my vote. There are much more pleasant ways to make peptides.

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35. on June 8, 2013 2:32 PM writes...

Natural product synthesis in Baran fashion is going to be here and will withstand all the crap that comes and is the engine that drives the discovery of reactions, reagents and drugs. It has withstood the test of time since the days of Woodword, and will be here for ever. Only those who has made a natural product with their hands can only attest and comment....others do not qualify to even talk about the total synthesis, and its multifold value.

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