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NSERC Prizes 2018: Michael Organ

Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences
University of Ottawa


Video Name

NSERC Prizes 2018: Michael Organ


NSERC Communications



Release Date

May 1, 2018


Michael Organ has developed a series of catalysts that are making it possible for researchers and companies to discover and design new drug treatments, materials, and agriculture products. They are already widely used in the pharmaceutical sector, and are now being used to discover novel organic light emitting diodes, the next-generation visual technology coming to TVs, computers, and smart devices. He is also spearheading an open-source library of catalysts and processes that may help other researchers improve their own processes or find cleaner, more cost-effective, or safer alternatives.

Yves De Koninck

An average drug requires six to eight steps to make, and each step is different. The ratio of waste can be 25 to 100 to 1. So there's far more waste that's produced than the drug or the agrochemical that comes out of it in the other end. So these are things that we're really trying to take a swing at in a practical and pragmatic way, to try and make a difference.

So we work in the development of catalysts, so essentially we make molecules. From a green or sustainable perspective, catalysis is viewed very favourably. It's actually one of the 12 cornerstones of what's called green chemistry. The family of catalysts that we've developed are based primarily, for now, on palladium.

We're looking to use more earth-abundant metals, so other metals like cobalt or iron or nickel, that are more readily available, but to really look at things that sustain the lifetime of catalysts, make them last. What I look for in application is the ability to spoon it out on the bench in a coffee cup and it works. It's not moisture sensitive, which many organic reactions are, doesn't have to be heated ideally ó that's what we sort of look for. Itís to take something that isn't simple and is rather actually complex, but make it operationally simple. So you almost think everything's been done, but now the bar just keeps going up and up and up and up for what we can do.