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30 under 30: Tailoring Transformations in Chemistry with New Catalysts

Meet Rebecca Melen, one of the promising young chemists attending the 2013 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting



Courtesy of Rebecca Melen

Each year hundreds of the best and brightest researchers gather in Lindau, Germany, for the Nobel Laureate Meeting. There, the newest generation of scientists mingles with Nobel Prize winners and discusses their work and ideas. The 2013 meeting is dedicated to chemistry and will involve young researchers from 78 different countries. In anticipation of the event, which will take place from June 30 through July 5, we are highlighting a group of attendees under 30 who represent the future of chemistry.  The following profile is the 20th in a series of 30.

20
Name: Rebecca Melen
Age: 27
Born: Nottingham, England
Nationality: British
Current position: Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto in Canada

Education: PhD in chemistry from the University of Cambridge, U.K.; MS in chemistry and BA in natural sciences, both from the University of Cambridge

What is your field of research?
My current research aims to develop new catalysts based on main group metals as alternative potent catalysts for a range of industrially and academically important transformations. My studies have focused on the development of novel main group catalysts, particularly those based on chemically abundant calcium and aluminum. In addition my current postdoctoral research investigates the use of Frustrated Lewis Pairs (FLPs) in catalysis. As we better understand the chemistry of these main group compounds, we can potentially tailor their catalytic properties to meet the current and growing needs of the chemical industry. Currently, the chemical dominance of d-block metals is rarely questioned and my work aims to change that perception.

What drew you to chemistry, and to that research area in particular?
I chose to study chemistry because my naturally inquisitive nature drives my pursuit of knowledge, and I enjoy the feeling of enlightenment that comes with fundamental understanding and problem solving. Successes in chemical research, whether they are the preparation of a new compound or rationalization of a chemical reaction mechanism, are exciting moments of insight into the wonderful world of molecules. Chemistry arguably sits as the central science, overlapping with other disciplines such as biology, physics, and materials. Because of this overlap, I have the opportunity for insight into many different disciplines and can maintain my interest and understanding in other sciences. In recent years, I’ve been able to cultivate a diversity of skills required to succeed: I have learned to draft research papers, present my research, and how to travel to conferences. In addition, I have relished the opportunities offered to teach and inspire undergraduates.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I currently plan to pursue an academic career because I would like to conduct research, and I have enjoyed teaching students at the undergraduate level. In 10 years time I hope to have a permanent faculty position with my own research group. I have been highly fortunate to develop several aspects of main-group catalyzed transformations with world leading research groups, yet the development of main group catalysts is still in its infancy. There are many opportunities to improve and develop main group catalysts to meet the level of performance necessary for industrial exploitation.

Who are your scientific heroes?
Several Nobel Prize winners, whose advancements in research are profound and elegant, could be considered my scientific heroes. However, it is perhaps the people working somewhat closer to my own field who are my scientific heroes—including, for example, those people whose research I enjoy reading or people I’ve heard giving a particularly memorable talk.

What activities outside of chemistry do you most enjoy?
I really relish the opportunity to be outdoors. Although I enjoy walking and cycling, my favorite hobby is horse riding, which I have been doing for the past 22 years.

What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting will be a great opportunity for me to be inspired by some of the world’s most prominent scientists. I am enthusiastic to learn how their big discoveries arose. The meeting will allow me to exchange and discuss new ideas in chemistry with people from all disciplines. Meeting other like-minded young researchers will be important in initiating long-term collaborations and friendships. I anticipate that this meeting will be a great experience and benefit my future career aspirations.

Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet?
I am excited to learn from all the Nobel Prize winners who are attending this meeting and to hear about their discoveries. In particular, I would like to meet Robert Grubbs and Richard Schrock, who won the 2005 Nobel Prize in chemistry in recognition of their discoveries and contributions to the area of olefin metathesis.

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19. Aashish Manglik
30 Under 30:
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Next »
21. David Liptrot

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