Structure Engineering with Molecules

One way a chemist works could be thought of as engineering the relationship between structure and function at the level of molecules and formulations to achieve desired physical properties. How is that accomplished? In short, chemical synthesis provides the tools to change the properties of molecules with chemical reactions that add to or take away from the underlying structure. Think of this as tinker toys, or the assembly of different components based on their chemical properties. Molecules may modified through the addition of atoms or fragments, changing the oxidation state of the molecule or forming large molecules with many repeat units.


Each one of these steps when deployed for the rational design of a structure will modify the observable physical properties. Through the use of empirical structure-function relationships, it is possible to design new molecules whose who gross physical properties can be predicted, if the synthesis is successful. However, often optimization is required to prepare a structure that functions with the desired physical properties, and it is not unusual for the exceptional case, where a new observation is learned.


Part of the confusion over chemistry and engineering emanates from the fact most people enjoy the benefits of this molecular engineering, but only at the level of the stuff they buy works better. A brief history of synthesis is described in the context of man versus Nature by Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Sir John Cornforth in The Trouble of Synthesis, (Australian Journal of Chemistry, 1993, 46, 157-70.). While it may provide good sleeping material for most, it touches on a few key concepts that highlight why synthesis by Sparx is different. Originally, synthesis was the ultimate proof of deductive reasoning for matching properties of natural products with a man made equivalent. Synthesis itself, is defined by the bringing together of separate pieces to form a new product. Yet as Cornforth points out, synthesis is as much bout breaking bonds as forming new ones. Further irony comes from historical nature of seeking to build complex architectures for the sake of demonstrating skill, or building molecules for the purpose of testing theory. In fact, many of these practices are still published in contemporary literature. Certainly the value is important for expanding knowledge, but too often the question of ‘can it be done’ trumps why it should be accomplished. Further complicating the nature of synthesis derives from the circumstance where ‘why it is done’ is valid, yet the cost for using the product exceeds the benefit. Too often the miracles of affordable computing and associated tools has left a generation of chemists who lost the art of observation. As Cornforth mentions, 20 years ago,

‘if you plan a synthesis and leave its execution to less skilled people who have been told what to expect, you are likely to miss observations and opportunities that you would not miss if you allowed yourself to be taught by the experiments, instead of trying to teach Nature how she should behave’.

Perhaps the Nobel committee best summarized the synthesis paradox when distinguishing Woodward in 1965, when they attributed his contributions to the ART of organic synthesis. With an adequate background established, synthesis at Sparx may now be distinguished. Development of new reactions, achieving preparation of complex molecules, and testing theories, all have value. In the spirit of the ART of synthesis, the ability to design a molecule, build with high yield, isolate without expensive purification while improving performance as measured by cost efficiency, or superior properties, not only achieves the historic ideals of synthesis, but integrates the finest of academic pursuits with the most practical applications. Such a process not only generates new intellectual property, but creates value by impacting health, environment, quality, quantity or safety. While Cornforth defined synthesis as ‘the intentional construction of molecules by means of chemical reactions’, Sparx would add ‘the intentional construction of molecules by means of chemical reactions to achieve a functional property of practical value. To that end, Sparx combines synthesis expertise with engineering efficiency to impact your business:

  • Troubleshoot breakdown in new processes
  • Optimize and scale up high value compounds
  • Generate disruptive products with new chemistry
  • Independent evaluation of data for alternate interpretations or validation
  • Modeling of molecules with computer computations
  • Nonlinear data dissection to find related variables
  • Integrate new chemistries with advanced electronics and programming

Synthesis is a challenging endeavor. Cornforth saw the value of commercial constraints on synthesis by the statements,

‘solving a difficult problem of synthesis the chemist is likely to be forced to invent new methods’;

‘when a candidate for commercial synthesis arises some very interesting synthesis is often initiated since the object here is to find the shortest, cheapest, cleanest route to the target. Innovation becomes desirable, bold short cuts are tried ‘;


‘synthesis in university laboratories is executed by learners’ and the ‘effect has been to stereotype practical methods and to limit choice available’ but ‘in its practice [synthesis] the hands and brain must work together as in few other disciplines. Every experiment is a new experiment, no matter how often others – and you- may have done it before’

These are the same ideals Sparx specializes in when providing chemical consulting services. Sparx scientists and engineers provide premium service because we work on the problems, not just manage projects. Our hands on approach distinguishes the experience difference you will value. Instead of viewing it as “Trouble” Sparx sees synthesis as the opportunity to improve the bottom line with innovation and executing efficiency.

No comments yet - be first!

Add your thoughts