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Better protection

2:05pm, September 12, 2006

A new molecular catalyst shortens a widely used reaction into a one-step process, with a bonus: It makes the reaction's products into one of two possible mirror-image forms.

When chemists synthesize compounds, they often add a protective group of atoms to a specific site on a molecule to prevent that site from reacting in subsequent steps. For example, a silicon-based group is added to an alcohol site in many syntheses of organic molecules, says Marc L. Snapper of Boston College.

However, protecting an alcohol site in this manner previously required up to seven chemical steps, he notes. To expedite the process, Snapper, Amir H. Hoveyda, and their Boston College coworkers searched for a small molecule that could catalyze that addition in a single step.

Furthermore, chemists often want to synthesize one of two possible mirror-image forms, or chiral molecules. The function of some molecules depends on its mirror-image form.

Snapper and his colleagues used their

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