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NSERC Prizes 2019: Douglas Stephan

Department of Chemistry
University of Toronto


Video Name

NSERC Prizes 2019: Douglas Stephan


NSERC Communications



Release Date

May 6, 2019


Just after the turn of the millennium, Douglas Stephan took a 100-year-old chemistry process and redesigned it into something cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. The University of Toronto researcher’s discovery of “frustrated Lewis pairs” provided a new paradigm that gave researchers around the world the key to performing exciting chemistry that had previously been beyond their grasp. Stephan’s development of this new concept uncovered shortcuts that are leading chemists to all kinds of advancements in drug development, agrochemical production, green chemistry and environmentally friendly materials science. Chemists have already built on Stephan’s foundational work to create biodegradable plastics, new health care treatments, alternative fuels and more. His breakthrough has benefited the entire chemistry community, and yet it represents just one of many contributions throughout his impressive career. He is the winner of the 2019 John C. Polanyi Award in recognition of his groundbreaking discovery and contributions to the field of chemistry.

Douglas Stephan

They do call chemistry the central science for a reason. Pretty much all of technology has, at some point, been influenced, or is—or requires the use of chemistry. Is it some new material? Is it some—is it some new process to make a drug, or an agri-chemical, or a commodity chemical, or address the CO2 problem, or a new way to save energy? All of those questions are, you know, things chemists ask all the time. In the last 15 years, we've made some very fundamental findings that have really opened the door for chemists to use very simple molecules to do things that people hadn't thought about before.

I mean, it's such a great job. Just conceptually, you know, being able to think about something new all the time, trying to find ways to do things people haven't done before is pretty exciting. If you'd asked me when I was 12, I would have said, well, I'd like play for the Maple Leafs. But yeah, I honestly, it's—it's really hard to say. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.