A photo of Scott Denmark in a tuxedo.

Organic Chemistry Research Groups Convene at the 2021 MIT Chemistry Organic Retreat Sponsored by Scott Denmark (SB ’75)

Categories: Alumni, Events, Faculty, Giving, Students

Now in its fourth year, the Organic Retreat aims to foster community, collaboration and engagement among the department's organic chemistry research groups.

In 2017, Scott Denmark (SB ’75) came to the MIT Department of Chemistry with an idea to establish an annual event that would serve as an opportunity for graduate students in the Department’s organic chemistry research groups to spend a day listening to presentations from each of the groups, attending poster sessions, and interacting in a stimulating environment. The day culminates with a reception for all students and faculty followed by dinner with the student organizing committee and Prof. Denmark. A year later, in the spring of 2018, the inaugural MIT Chemistry Organic Retreat, generously sponsored by Denmark and coordinated by organic chemistry graduate students overseen by Professor Alex Radosevich, was held. It has been an integral part of the department’s social calendar ever since.

Denmark describes his undergraduate experience at MIT as “nothing short of magical.” “I was able to indulge my love of chemistry with courses from the most influential researchers and gifted teachers,” he said. “Thanks to the [then] recently created UROP effort, I was able to spend four full years, including summers, working at the forefront of bioinorganic chemistry with Richard Holm and molecular recognition/synthesis with Daniel Kemp. Nothing could have prepared me better for my graduate studies at the ETH-Zürich with Albert Eschenmoser. Like most students, however, I was unaware of the research activities underway in other groups. Thus, when the time came for me to make a major gift to the Department, I wanted to do something that would enhance the intellectual environment in a significant way.”

Originally from Lynbrook, New York, Denmark has been a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 1980, and is currently the Reynold C. Fuson Professor of Chemistry. The inspiration for the MIT Chemistry Organic Retreat stems from a similar type of conference that was established at the University of Illinois in 1987.

“In 1987, the organic chemistry faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were asked to develop a number of proposals for a forthcoming gift from a generous Alumnus,” said Denmark. “One of those proposals was to create an annual conference to provide graduate students with an opportunity to present their work in poster and lecture formats, to foster informal discussions, to facilitate communication about ongoing work between research groups and to give students organizational and leadership experience. This conference has been enormously successful and serves as the marquee event in our fall semester. Generations of students now recall the experience fondly for the celebration of the fantastic opportunities to learn about the research in the organic chemistry area and to share in the successes of their colleagues. Now more than ever, as graduate students, postdoctoral research associates, undergraduates and faculty alike find fewer and fewer opportunities to interact between research groups, I felt that creating this venue for my cherished institution would be most fitting.”

On June 9, 2021, the fourth annual MIT Chemistry Organic Retreat (and the second to be held virtually over Zoom) was held, and was a rousing success, especially considering the challenges that go along with hosting an event online. Over the course of the day, a total of seventeen presentations and poster sessions were held, and Organic Chemistry graduate students, postdocs, and faculty were afforded the opportunity to learn about their colleagues’ projects, and to continue to establish connections beyond their respective research groups.

The Department of Chemistry is extremely grateful for Denmark’s generosity over the years, not only to the Retreat, but to other areas he passionately supports.   These invaluable contributions are the fabric of the department’s community, and help to maintain the momentum, standards of excellence, and the vitality that keep the MIT Department of Chemistry among the world’s top chemistry programs.  Click here for more information on how to support the Department of Chemistry.

2021 Organic Chemistry Retreat Presentations

Catalytic Contra-Thermodynamic Olefin Isomerization
Gino Occhialini, Vignesh Palani, Alison E. Wendlandt

Biogenetically Inspired Synthesis of Structurally Complex Antibiotics
Kyan A. D’Angelo, Carly K. Schissel, Bradley L. Pentelute, Mohammad Movassaghi

Selective Glycan Labelling with Synthetic Substrates
Victoria Marando, Daria Kim, Phillip Calabretta, Matthew Kraft, Laura Kiessling

Leveraging the Photochemistry of N-Nitrosamines for their Aqueous Detection Jessica Beard, Timothy M. Swager

Copper Hydride Catalyzed Asymmetric Hydrofunctionalization Reactions
Sheng Feng, Stephen L. Buchwald

Studies Directed Toward the Total Synthesis of (-)-Herbindole C
Nathan H. Faialaga, Rick L. Danheiser

Binary Combinatorial Scanning Reveals Potent Poly-alanine-substituted Inhibitors of Protein-protein Interactions
Xiyun Ye, Bradley L. Pentelute

Molecularly Designed Additives for Overcoming Performance-Degradability Tradeoffs in Thermoset Materials
Keith E. L. Husted, Peyton Shieh, David J. Lundberg, Samantha L. Kristufek, Jeremiah A. Johnson

2021 Organic Chemistry Retreat Poster Sessions

Biosensors Based on Complex Liquid Crystal Emulsions
Alberto Concellón, Darryl Fong, Timothy M. Swager

Epimerization of Unactivated Stereocenters through Decatungstate Photocatalysis
Alexander E. Seim, Yong Wang, Kathleen J. Wang, and Alison E. Wendlandt

An Electroactive Anion Receptor with High Affinity for Arsenate
Samuel I. Etkind, Douglas A. Vander Griend, Timothy M. Swager 

Organophosphorus-Catalyzed Serial Dehydration: Amide Condensation and Activation as a Platform for Multi-Component Coupling with Pyridine N-Oxides
Jeffrey M. Lipshultz, Alexander Radosevich

Nanoporous Linear-Polymer Photoredox Catalysts
Richard Y. Liu*, Sheng Guo*, Timothy M. Swager

Stereochemical Editing of Secondary Alcohols: Application to Thermodynamically Stable trans-Vicinal Diols
Yu-An Zhang, Xin Gu, Alison E. Wendlandt

A Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of the Mycobacterial Galactan
Katherine I. Taylor, Alexander M. Justen, Jordan S. Ho, Laura L. Kiessling