Plenary Lecture

Thomas J. Meyer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This plenary lecture will be presented in the Energy Futures Symposium, Tuesday, May 29, 2021

Abstract: Finding the Way to Solar Fuels
Concerns about long-term supply of hydrocarbon fuels (even in Canada) and their environmental impact are creating an impetus for a new energy future. The sun may be the ultimate renewable energy source but it has limits. It will require energy storage on unprecedentedly massive scales with daytime generation of solar fuels for storage and later use for nighttime power generation.
Target solar fuel reactions are water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen and CO2 reduction to CO, other oxygenates, or hydrocarbons. Carrying out these multiple electron/multiple proton reactions with single photon excitation poses a considerable challenge. Natural photosynthesis provides a model but its ~1% efficiency for biomass production is too inefficient for solar fuel applications. Multiple approaches are under investigation from solar thermal to direct band gap excitation of semiconductors. A promising approach, based on molecules and molecular level phenomena, is Dye Sensitized Photoelectrosynthesis Cells (DSPECs). They function like dye sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) with redox equivalents produced by molecular-level excitation and injection into wide band gap semiconductors. However, they are used to drive physically separated solar fuel half reactions instead of a photocurrent. DSPECs are based on a “modular approach” with separate components for light absorption/injection, electron/proton transfer through free energy gradients, and catalyst activation and reactivity, studied separately and assembled in integrated structures. Significant progress has been made on the underlying catalytic reactions for water oxidation and CO2 reduction and gaining an understanding the dynamics of injection and back electron transfer under conditions appropriate for DSPEC water splitting.

Bio: Thomas J. Meyer is Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Director of the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center on Solar Fuels, and Chief Scientist of the Research Triangle Solar Fuels Institute. From 2000 to 2004, he served as Associate Director for Strategic Research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where he oversaw the research activities of ~3000 employees and a research budget of >$600 M. From 1994 to 1999, he was Vice Chancellor/Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Research at UNC-CH where he oversaw a graduate and professional student program of over 8000 students, a research portfolio > $300 million, and led planning efforts leading to new initiatives in geonomics, bioinformatics, Arts Carolina, and The Center for the Study of the American South, among others.

Raymond Andersen, University of British Columbia

This CIC Medal lecture will be presented at the Conference Opening, Saturday, May 26, 2021

Abstract: Sponging Off Nature for New Drug Leads
The secondary metabolites found in marine organisms represent an extremely rich source of novel chemical diversity for academic drug discovery and chemical biology programs. Among the marine invertebrates, marine sponges continue to be the most prolific source of new natural products. Our group at UBC has amassed a sizable library of crude extracts from marine sponges, marine microorganisms, and other marine invertebrates collected in many of the world's oceans. In collaboration with biologists, this crude extract library has been screened for activity in a variety of cell-based and pure enzyme assays designed to identify promising lead compounds for the development of drugs. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the crude extracts and extensive spectroscopic analysis is used to identify the structures of the pure natural products active in these assays. Biology oriented chemical synthesis is used by our group to probe the SAR for new natural product pharmacophores that we discover and to provide material for in vivo testing in animal models. Several new drug candidates for the treatment of cancer, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, and infectious diseases have emerged from this research program. Three of them have progressed to phase II clinical trials in humans and others are in preclinical evaluation/development. The lecture will present an overview of chemical and biological results from our academic drug discovery/chemical biology research.