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Dr. Lili Ma in lab
Dr. Lili Ma Builds on Organic Chemistry Research Project

September 21, 2017- Northern Kentucky University’s Dr. Lili Ma, an associate professor of chemistry, has received a National Science Foundation grant for her research work, “Unusual Oxidation and Domino Reactions via Palladium-catalyzed alpha-Heteroarylation of Ketones.” The Northern Kentucky University Research Foundation received the $242,979 grant that will allow Dr. Ma and her team to explore this interesting chemistry field.

“National Science Foundation grants are exceptionally difficult to win, especially on the first application. I think this speaks to the inventive work that Lili and her team are doing in terms of finding new palladium-catalyzed reactions,” Dean Diana McGill, College of Arts and Science, said. “I am very proud to know that our students are taking part in groundbreaking work led by one of our outstanding faculty members.”

The palladium catalysis is becoming more important in chemical research laboratories and the chemical industry. The alpha-heteroarylation reaction is extremely useful, as it can be applied in many fields of chemistry to make dyes, stabilizers and pharmaceutical agents. However, this reaction is poorly understood and rarely reported in literature, and that is where Dr. Ma’s team is engaged. 

Dr. Ma's research team

“It is imperative to understand this reaction in order to discover chemical transformation which produce fewer byproducts and generate less chemical waste. This is what motivates my team to find these new reactions,” said Dr. Lili Ma. “My team is mastering not only the laboratory skills to conduct this level of research, but they are also learning to think like a scientist, and to share the excitement of new discovery.”

In this project, Dr. Ma is investigating the unusual palladium-catalyzed oxidation reactions and domino reactions and how to apply them in green chemistry, ligand design, biochemistry and medicinal chemistry. These efficient organic reactions provide convenient access to building blocks that are useful for material chemistry and medicinal chemistry.

Dr. Ma is actively engaged in STEM research activities such as the International Summer Research Intern Program and UR-STEM, a summer research program for students without previous research experience. Dr. Ma is also highly involved in STEM outreach activities such as the Elementary STEM Day and STEM Expo. She takes part in the Saturday Program for Access to Rewarding Knowledge (SPARK) to improve the education of grade school and high school students. In support of the broader impacts of the project, her research activities, in conjunction with the department and university STEM programs, provide opportunities to recruit and retain female students, first-generation college students and African American/Latino research students in the STEM discipline.

Dr. Ma’s National Science Foundation grant was awarded in July and ends in June 2020.