The manufacture of safer and more effective pharmaceuticals and chemicals for a variety of applications in the life sciences demands the ability to selectively synthesize molecules of left or right "handedness." Handedness refers to the existence of pairs of chemical molecules that differ only by being mirror images of each other. The most effective way to steer a chemical reaction toward the formation of only the product of desired handedness is the use of a handed catalyst. While not being consumed in the reaction, the catalyst speeds up the formation of the desired product. In doing so repeatedly, it transfers its "handedness" to many product molecules and thus multiplies its structural information manifold.
Professor K. Barry Sharpless has pioneered the discovery of three catalytic reactions that add oxygen atoms to molecules containing a carbon-carbon double bond, to selectively produce chemical compounds with the desired handedness. These processes are used extensively by academic and industrial chemists.
Information as of April 2001