Donna Blackmond, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Chemistry, Scripps Research InstituteDonna Blackmond’s website
Portrait photo of Donna Blackmond

SCOL Project: Prebiotic Chemistry and Origin of Homochirality

The single chirality of biological molecules is a signature of life, and its origin remains an unanswered fundamental question. Our work has focused on two main aspects of this problem: 1) developing physical and chemical processes aimed at amplifying a small excess of one enantiomer; and 2) incorporating such enantioenrichment mechanisms into plausible prebiotic synthetic routes to the building blocks of life. We outline three separate projects for our future work:

  1. Attrition Enhanced Deracemization of Sugars, Nucleobases, Amino acids and Aminoamides
  2. Energy Requirement for Symmetry Breaking and the Emergence of Homochirality
  3. Chiral Sugars as Catalysts to Drive Amino Acid Enantioenrichment.

Donna G Blackmond received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1984. She has held professorships in chemistry and in chemical engineering in the U.S., Germany and the U.K., and she has worked at Merck & Co. In 2010 she moved from a research chair in chemistry and chemical engineering at Imperial College London to her present position as professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. She holds joint U.S./U.K. citizenship.

Blackmond is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and she serves on the Chemical Sciences Roundtable at the National Academy of Sciences. She has received awards from the Royal Society of the United Kingdom and the Max Planck Society in Germany. She has been a Woodward Visiting Scholar at Harvard, a Miller Institute Research Fellow at Berkeley, an NSF Visiting Professor at Princeton and the Givaudan-Karrer Visiting Professor at the University of Zürich. In 2016 she received the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists and the Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis from the American Chemical Society.

Blackmond serves as a consultant to major pharma companies, and she is on the advisory board of the National Institute of Clean and Low-Carbon Energy (NICE) of China’s Shenhua Group coal company. Her research focuses on mechanistic and kinetic studies of organic reactions, in particular asymmetric catalysis, as well as exploring chemical and physical models of the emergence of biological homochirality.

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