ChemComm Milestones – Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar joins our growing community of authors who have chosen to publish their first-time independent research article in ChemComm. Read Amit’s ChemComm1st article ‘Direct synthesis of polyureas from the dehydrogenative coupling of diamines and methanol‘ in the full milestones collection.  In this post, you can find out more about Amit and his exciting research.

Our interview with Amit

What are the main areas of research in your lab and what motivated you to take this direction?
The discovery of new organometallic catalysts to enable a circular economy is the main theme of research in my lab. Starting my independent academic career with the COVID pandemic has made me realize the onus on scientists and academics to prepare our planet to prevent any future catastrophes. The adverse effects of climate change on the environment have become visible in many forms and is a serious cause of concern in current times. These events have motivated me to utilize my expertise to contribute to mitigating the rising threat of climate change. I have therefore decided to dedicate my academic career in pursuit of sustainable technologies to enable circular economy (that advocates for using waste as a resource) e.g. CO2 capture, and utilization, and production of renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable plastics.

Can you set this article in a wider context?
The article reveals a new proof of concept method for the synthesis of polyureas using the approach of catalytic dehydrogenative coupling of diamines and methanol. Polyureas are commonly used plastics (used for coatings, and adhesives in construction industries) with an annual global market of 885 USD. Polyureas are industrially produced from the reaction of diamines, and diisocyanates. However, diisocyanates and their precursor – phosgene gas are highly toxic. The method disclosed in this article circumvents the use of toxic diisocyanates with methanol, which is not only less toxic and cheaper, but also renewable and can be made from the hydrogenation of CO2. Thus, the developed method is safer than the current state-of-the-art technology and allows the production of renewable polyureas. Moreover, the use of 13C-labelled methanol also allows the cost-effective production of 13C-labelled polyureas that could find applications in medical technologies such as drug delivery, and tissue engineering when coupled with 13C-MRI.

What do you hope your lab can achieve in the coming year?
In the coming year(s), we hope to develop more efficient (cheaper, higher TON, and reusable) catalysts of earth-abundant metals for the production and degradation of polyureas to demonstrate its closed-loop production cycle. Moreover, we also aim to expand this concept to demonstrate new closed-loop production pathways for polycarbonates, and polyurethanes using the approach of catalytic (de)hydrogenation.

Describe your journey to becoming an independent researcher.
October 4th, 2010. Sitting on the first bench of my undergraduate lecture course (taught by Prof. K. R. Justin Thomas, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee), I studied the fascinating mechanisms of palladium-catalysed cross-coupling reactions. Oct 6th, 2010; Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki for the development of palladium-catalysed cross-couplings in organic synthesis. I was thrilled with the news! Partly, because this was the first time, I already knew about the topic that won the Nobel Prize. My interest to delve deeper into this area made me write a review article on this topic in the final year of my undergraduate studies and led me to pursue this area for future research expeditions. I carried my DPhil research with Prof. Andrew Weller at the University of Oxford in the area of organometallic chemistry and then moved to the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel to work with Prof. David Milstein on topics of green homogeneous catalysis. The work culture of the Milstein lab allowed me to pursue my independent ideas, lead the required collaborations, and work independently on various aspects of publications. These experiences made me confident to lead a research group in academia.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I was once told about the 3Ds of leadership/management that I have found very helpful in my career.
Delegate: You cannot do everything by yourself. Effective delegation and collaboration can mean accomplishing the project goal in a limited timeframe and maximizing the utilization of individual team member’s strength.
Defer: Prioritise and defer tasks that can wait.
Delete: Time is precious. It is important to say No to certain tasks that don’t fit with your goals and vision.

Why did you choose to publish in ChemComm?
ChemComm is a highly prestigious journal and has a large readership from several fields of chemistry. Several breakthroughs (including synthesis of fullerenes, and rules for ring closures) have been published in this journal in the past. All of these factors in addition to the rapid peer-review process made me choose to publish in ChemComm.

Amit Kumar completed his Integrated M.Sc. Chemistry degree (2007-2012) at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee where he received several research fellowships and awards (Indian Academy of Science, DAAD -Germany, IIT-ParisTech, KVPY & INSPIRE from the Govt of India) along with the Institute Silver Medal. He then won the Rhodes Scholarship and pursued his DPhil (2012-2016) under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Weller at the University of Oxford, UK. Upon completion of his DPhil, Amit received the PBC fellowship (Planning & Budgeting Committee, Israel) to carry his postdoctoral research with Prof. David Milstein at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel where he was promoted to be a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow in 2019. Amit was awarded the FGS (Feinberg Graduate School) Prize for the outstanding achievements in postdoctoral research 2018 by the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. In Jan 2020, Amit started his independent academic career as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Researcher at the School of Chemistry, University of St. Andrews. His research interests are organometallic catalysis, energy storage, and circular chemistry.


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