Colorado State University Research Foundation Names Organic Chemist Researcher of the Year

An organic chemist at Colorado State University has been named Researcher of the Year by the Colorado State University Research Foundation for his work on synthetic organic chemistry.

Yian Shi, assistant professor of chemistry, received the award Tuesday evening at the Foundation’s 14th Researchers’ Recognition Dinner, which was held to honor individuals at Colorado State with active technology license agreements, patents filed in fiscal year 1998-99 and U.S. patents issued prior to June 1999.

Shi is a specialist in a form of chemistry called catalytic asymmetric synthesis. The field uses catalysts to synthesize one of two symmetrical versions of a molecule, which are analogous to a right and left hand. Since one version is often medicinally useful, the ability to synthesize that version selectively is of great advantage to pharmaceutical companies.

The research carried on by Shi has a particular advantage because it uses catalysts, compounds that enhance a reaction, that are relatively benign. Similar work uses heavy metal catalysts that are toxic and must be removed from the final product.

A native of China, Shi earned a bachelor’s from Nanjing University, a master’s in organic chemistry from the University of Toronto and a doctorate in the field from Stanford University in 1992. He then served as a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School from the time of his graduation until joining Colorado State in 1995.

His awards include the Glaxo Wellcome Chemistry Scholar Award for 2000; the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award for 1999; an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow Award and DuPont Young Faculty Award, both in 1999; a National Science Foundation Career Award for 1999-2002; and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award, 1995-2000.

Shi has written or co-authored 27 reviewed scientific papers.

Kathleen Byington, president of the Colorado State University Research Foundation, said Shi’s work is notable because of its potential applications in the pharmaceutical and other chemical industries and its use of organic, relatively harmless catalysts.