WMU News

Chemistry's Elke Schoffers gets NIH grant

May 20, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- WMU chemist Dr. Elke Schoffers (ELK-uh SHEHF-ers) has landed a $136,000 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences--a branch of the National Institutes of Health--to conduct research, which ultimately could influence some of the chemical processes used to develop pharmaceuticals.

"This grant will complement WMU's already formidable research efforts," said Rep. Fred Upton, who announced the federal funding. "This is very important research that can have wide-ranging benefits. I applaud Professor Schoffers and her fine work--her efforts allow her students to get valuable, hands-on experience researching cutting-edge science."

The three-year project, titled "Phenanthroline Derivatives in Asymmetric Catalysis," will focus on designing catalysts that accelerate specific organic transformations very selectively, says Schoffers, an assistant professor of chemistry. For example, molecules and ions can be used as reagents to speed up organic reactions, she explains.

"But what if the reagent has the ability to revert to its original form and conduct the process over and over again? Then we refer to it as a catalyst because it participates in a transformation and is recovered unchanged," she says. "In a way, we are mimicking nature's catalysts--enzymes--for new applications in chemistry. This is a fascinating area of research."

Catalysts are used widely in the chemical industry because they can be recovered and reused many times, thus lowering production costs, Schoffers notes.

While the focus of her latest project is fairly narrow, it relates to other areas, including organometallic chemistry, synthetic chemistry and material science. Generally, research involving asymmetric catalysis is growing and is considered a crucial area of exploration. Findings often affect a wide range of applications, including pharmaceuticals, flavors, food ingredients, fragrances and agrochemicals.

Schoffers, who has been on WMU's faculty since 1998, has garnered other research grants in past years. In 2002, the Frasch Foundation, administered through the American Chemical Society, awarded her a five-year, $200,000 grant to study the synthesis of inosamines. The organization promotes research in agricultural chemistry and Schoffers' work examines the chemistry of legume plants and biochemistry of their symbiotic relationship with bacteria. Her research eventually could impact the development and implementation of eco-friendly agricultural fertilizers.

Schoffers started her academic career at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, and she earned graduate degrees in the United States. Her long-term goal is to study and apply stereoselective synthesis. She works on a variety of research projects, all of which involve organic synthesis and offer her graduate and undergraduate students an opportunity to explore fundamental synthetic methods.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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