Queen's University

Victor Snieckus, Chemistry

In 2006, chemistry professor Victor Snieckus invited Richard Heck (who won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry) to Queen's for five months.

Victor Snieckus, the Bader Chair Emeritus in Organic Chemistry, has played major roles in three discoveries over his career that have been turned into successful commercial products.

Yet Dr. Snieckus owns no patent rights to these products. He is more interested in designing syntheses of molecules and sharing his research to help improve the availability of new medicines.

“I’m very idealistic that way. I don’t care about having a bigger house. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a closely-knit, caring family, and work that I love. What else do I need?” asks Dr. Snieckus. “Perhaps a bottle of wine and some good jazz once in a while.”

Dr. Snieckus’s research is focused on aromatic compounds, a class of organic molecules that are present in 80 per cent of marketed drugs. He describes his research using a Lego analogy.

“Imagine 10 Lego blocks of different shapes, colors, and sizes and the large number of ways they can be clicked together. Chemists dissect a molecule to simpler Lego blocks A, B, C, and so on and decide on reactions to piece them together. The possibilities are limitless. So, when I look at a molecular structure to synthesize, how can I not get excited,” Dr. Snieckus says.

A substantial portion of his work is related to boron, which he describes as the element of the 21st Century. While simple boron compounds are used as antifungal agents, detergents, in bulletproof vests and even in emergency shutdown systems for nuclear reactors, organic boron compounds are tremendously useful in making pharmaceuticals, and are now being developed as light-emitting devices and semiconductors.

“I’m in good company,” says Dr. Snieckus. “This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists who discovered catalytic organic reactions – one is an organoboron chemist who inspired our work.” The other is Richard Heck who accepted Dr. Snieckus’s invitation in 2006 to come to Queen’s. He conducted research here for five months.

“What a delight that was for our students,” says Dr. Snieckus.

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Last updated at 4:38 pm EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
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