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Chemistry Professor Finds UC Right Spot to Pursue Dreams, Research

A dream he's nurtured since his high-school days has brought Hairong Guan to the UC Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor.

Date: 9/24/2007
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Melanie Cannon
As long ago as his high school days, Hairong Guan dreamed of becoming a chemistry professor.

Guan's dreams are quickly taking form on the UC campus, where he recently joined the Department of Chemistry faculty as an assistant professor.

An organometallic chemist, his research area has a "great impact on humankind," Guan says.

"It revolutionizes synthesis routes of various pharmaceutical and fine chemicals that are vital to everyone. Organometallic chemistry is absolutely an exciting frontier of chemistry research. In 2005, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three organometallic chemists for their development of new methods in organic synthesis."

He has, he admits, "always been fascinated by various chemical reactions," and anxious to discover new ones.

Hairong Guan
Assistant professor Hairong Guan is an organometallic chemist.


"Reaction-oriented subdisciplines of chemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry, used to develop in a parallel fashion until organometallic chemistry bridged the two and blurred the traditional boundary," he says. "The birth of organometallic chemistry brought great opportunities and new ideas for synthetic chemists to discover new reagents, new reactions and new activities."

After his 2000 graduation from Peking University, Guan headed to Columbia University. There, he studied with Professor Jack Norton, co-author of the textbook "Principles and Applications of Organotransition Metal Chemistry," considered by many scientists in the field to be the "bible" of organometallic chemistry. Guan earned his PhD at Columbia in 2005.

"Looking back, I made a great choice by joining his research group because I learned so much from him," he recalls. "After graduate school, I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked with Professor Charles Casey, who is a world-renowned organometallic chemist and a past president of the American Chemical Society (ACS).  I have a lot of respect for him.  He taught me not only great science, but also devotion to education."

The working atmosphere of UC's Department of Chemistry, along with a "nice and very helpful" team, was a selling point for the young professor in terms of career.

"I also like what I describe as a 'healthy' departmental structure, meaning a well-balanced pool of scientists," Guan says. "There are lots of young people who give me a sense of vibrancy of the department. At the same time, I know there are senior colleagues who are very experienced and willing to offer me advice. So far, I am very happy with the University of Cincinnati.  I think I have the necessary resources that can make me successful here."

One of Guan's research projects at UC is to find a new synthesis route to make primary alcohols widely used as surfactants, plasticizers, and detergent precursors.

"Current methods of manufacturing these alcohols require high temperature and high pressure. These harsh reaction conditions are not safe for workers and the manufacturing process is very expensive," he says. "Organometallic chemistry has a great potential in providing an alternative way to carry out the synthesis under much milder conditions, which will dramatically cut down the cost and energy input."

Another research project in Guan's group studies the activation of small molecules such as water and carbon dioxide by organometallic compounds, he adds.

"Understanding the catalysis, particularly the reaction mechanisms, could lead to revolutionary solutions for some energy and environmental problems," he says.

A self-described "very patient person," Guan thinks that quality will be beneficial in both teaching and research.

"In either activity, I will face a group of students with different levels of knowledge.  I enjoy working closely with my students.  I will devote my time evenly to the classroom and the lab as I believe that course work and lab work are equally important for our next generation of chemists. My goal is to make every student come out of classroom or research laboratory with an appreciation for learning chemistry as an intellectually rewarding process."

A member of ACS since 2002, Guan would like to expand his role in the world's largest scientific society. He expects, he says, to serve as a journal or proposal reviewer and to participate in educational outreach programs.

And when there's time, he and his wife will hit the road.

"We have been to more than 20 U.S. national parks," he says. "Although we have not been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio yet, it is on our list. We also like biking. Hilly roads in Cincinnati pose great challenge for amateurish bikers like us. To continue our education on American culture, we usually search for local events and have some fun on a perfect day off."

The two have, he says, "adjusted to this area very well." They lived in Madison, Wis., for two years and "really enjoyed the Midwest, especially people in the Midwest, who are so generous and genuine. We made a lot of friends in Madison and we look forward to making more great friends in Cincinnati."

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