Episode 15 of the Modern Chemistry podcast is a deep discussion with Monica Perez-Temprano about studying the mechanisms of catalytic processes.
Monica Is a group leader at ICIQ (Institut Català d’Investigació Química / Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia), Tarragona, Spain. Her group focuses on the ‘Development of new chemical transformations: From organometallic mechanistic studies to catalysis’. Prior to her current position, Monica conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, which followed awarding of her Ph.D. from the University of Valladolid, Spain – where she also earnt her B.Sc. and M.Sc.
In 2018, Monica was selected as one of the ‘Talented 12’ by Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society (ACS). She is also involved in outreach activities to increase the visibility of women in Science.
You will hear the following terms used during the interview. I've included some descriptions here.
During the discussion, Monica mentions a number of the publications that her groups have produced. Links to her publications are available from the group website.
Monica is contactable on social media, and you can find her on
The group website is https://www.iciq.org/research/research_group/dr-monica-h-perez-temprano/
On Twitter, the group is @Perez_Temprano
Our theme music is "Wholesome" by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com)
Music from https://filmmusic.io
License: CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Connect with me (Paul) at https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulorange/
H.E.L. group can be found at www.helgroup.com online,
on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/hel-group/
on Twitter, we're @hel_group, https://twitter.com/hel_group
or search for us on Facebook
Paul Orange: Hello and welcome to the Modern Chemistry Podcast with your host, Paul Orange.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Modern Chemistry Podcast. We're back after a short summer break. We've got a great episode for you today for episode number 15, and we've also got some other great guests lined and coming later on. [00:00:30] But today's show, number 15, is with Dr. Monica Perez-Temprano. And Monica is based at Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia, which is in Tarragona, Spain.
We get into, I think, four areas of discussion really during the show today. First one is fairly detailed discussion around Catalysis and the mechanistic study work that Monica is doing. We talk about [00:01:00] the collaborative nature of science and why that's important to be successful. We talk about the importance of mentoring and developing people, and I think it's fair to say that Monica and I had a discussion that ran on past the end of the podcast, and you're looking for a supervisor or a lab to go and work in, I think Monica really represents the best of people development that you could look for. I think she had some [00:01:30] exceptionally refreshing views on that and a really supportive approach. And you will hear her later on talk about this goal of making the people that work for her better than she was at the same age, and I think that's very laudable.
And then the final topic that we touch on is the importance of, and I'm doing air quotes here, "Failed experiments and what they can teach you, especially when you're doing mechanistic studies." I will be back right at the end to say goodbye, [00:02:00] but for now, I'll leave you with the discussion with Monica.
So I'd like to welcome to the show Dr. Monica Perez-Temprano, who works at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia, which is in Tarragona. Monica, Welcome to the show.
Monica Perez-Te...: Hi, Paul. Thanks for having me.
Paul Orange: No, it's great to see you. And I can see actually behind you, I think on your desk, you have your C&EN Talented 12 thing, and that's something that we'll come back to. But that's [00:02:30] that, and that's a very impressive award. So I'd never heard of Tarragona until I started doing a bit of research. But as I understand it on the sort of Northeast cost of Spain, just a bit... I mean, what? 70, 80 kilometers from Barcelona?
Monica Perez-Te...: 40 minutes by car, so it's pretty close.
Paul Orange: So a part of the world that I'm sure many people will know and is beautiful, and we've just been discussing that you're having some nice weather at the moment, which we're not having in the UK. So Monica, maybe the place that we [00:03:00] could start with is one of the things I was really impressed with was looking at the website that you have, you've got a very clear sort of focus of overview mission statement with your research. So maybe could you tell us a little bit about that area of focus and we can start from there?
Monica Perez-Te...: So before going to that point, maybe I need to go back and tell you.
Paul Orange: Go on.
Monica Perez-Te...: So I did my PhD, in my hometown [inaudible 00:03:26] and there, I was [00:03:30] doing mechanistic investigation of [inaudible 00:03:53] reactions. And for example, in my case, I was focused in [inaudible 00:03:53] that belonged to the famous [inaudible 00:03:53] reaction, that was how I did [inaudible 00:03:53]. So I was lucky enough and I went to the United States from my postdoc and I keep working at [inaudible 00:03:53] and I kept doing [inaudible 00:03:53] investigation, but then I was exposed to [inaudible 00:03:56] new work because I [00:04:00] was at the University of Michigan and I was [inaudible 00:04:01] because my supervisor she was fantastic [inaudible 00:04:05] but also the university is one of the top rank not only in the United State, in the world. So I was exposed to a type of chemistry [inaudible 00:04:15] synthetic organic chemistry, biochemistry, [inaudible 00:04:20] science and in my heart, I really like to understand how things work. So that is my main focus. I love to understand how things [00:04:30] work.
However, during my time in Michigan I start thinking, "What can I do with that information?" Because if you think... or maybe like if someone in the audience is a synthetic organic chemist, most of the reactions that we run in the lab, they fail. So [inaudible 00:04:42] work and even a smaller percentage is [inaudible 00:04:42]. And when you think about that, basically that is reduced to a really simple thing, that some of the reaction are not efficient, we only publish what is [inaudible 00:04:42] when we consider that [inaudible 00:04:42] when they are [inaudible 00:04:42] enough, but what happened with those reactions, maybe the 99 or 98% of it. And when I start thinking about that, especially in my topic, I'm focusing on [inaudible 00:04:50] metal Catalysis. This can be explained through a really [00:05:30] simple concept. At the end of the day, the reaction works if [inaudible 00:05:35]. So at the end of the day, say in the chemical [inaudible 00:05:41] normally they tell us like A + B to give C, that is not true. So [inaudible 00:05:46] there is not a C, maybe there is an E and in the middle there is a C, B. So if those intermediates work, the reaction is going to be a [inaudible 00:05:58]
However, most of the time they [00:06:00] don't work. So the goal of my group is to track those intermediates and to understand why the reactions are not efficient enough, and once that we know how to [inaudible 00:06:16] activity and overcome limitation and we really think that, that can be a completely game changer for the efficient transformations. And it sounds really simple, but it has some [00:06:30] challenges, especially from a synthetic point of view because we are working especially in [inaudible 00:06:36] method and before I work with [inaudible 00:06:40] and my life was way easier, everything was [inaudible 00:06:43] we can isolate a lot of things, but when you move up in the periodic table, things tend to be a little bit more tricky and it takes more time and especially the information that find [inaudible 00:06:58] is [00:07:00] way more limited, so that means that you normally [inaudible 00:07:06] if you want to implement a new strategy like this. So things are a low [inaudible 00:07:14] period until you can see the results. [inaudible 00:07:17] get like an idea of I can [inaudible 00:07:20] what we put in the website.
Paul Orange: Yeah. No, no, no, no, well, we'll dig into that a little deeply, lots of area that we [00:07:30] could go from. So you talk about moving into catalytic substrates that are, as you say, bit more tricky than palladium, and as I understand it from the reading, the reason that you were looking at those substrates is they're just more common and more available. Is that right or do they offer other advantages as well?
Monica Perez-Te...: So they offer a little advantages so from a [inaudible 00:07:57] point of view. For example, we are working in [00:08:00] cobalt and for me cobalt is like a chameleon because if you... indeed I have to write something in your perspective [inaudible 00:08:09] selling this point, because if you think about that, depending of the environment around the common metal center it can be [inaudible 00:08:21] it can [inaudible 00:08:21] it can be [inaudible 00:08:21] as an iron. So it's not only [inaudible 00:08:24]. Also it offers like some [inaudible 00:08:30] [00:08:30] that no so many methods can offer you, and that is something that caught my eye. So I found cobalt just by change when I was in Michigan and that was the starting of my proposal when I came to [inaudible 00:08:48] and when I start digging more in cobalt and since then we [inaudible 00:08:53] on the metal, but I've been studying other [inaudible 00:08:55] metals, they're fundamental [00:09:00] understanding is really needed. And basically, when people just want to [inaudible 00:09:08] from normal metal to the [inaudible 00:09:09] I think that in some cases can be a big mistake because they are really different they can go to different [inaudible 00:09:09] state it can go one or two electron processes that not necessarily the [inaudible 00:09:22] in this case can follow to.
But you only know that [00:09:30] once that you put the [inaudible 00:09:32] and you start to investigate and try to rationalize, in some cases, why the certain reactions don't work or in other cases why there are some limited example of certain [inaudible 00:09:48] transformation. So that can give you kind of place of start looking, but it [00:10:00] takes more time to get the answer.
Paul Orange: Yeah, so you were saying that cobalt has the ability to sort of mimic to lots of other elements in a way that it catalases these reactions. And does that give more scope to from cobalt to be able to do more interesting things as a catalyst or [crosstalk 00:10:22]
Monica Perez-Te...: And I think that it can do [inaudible 00:10:25] that it's not out there. So it's not published. So [inaudible 00:10:29] there is like not only with cobalt, nickel [00:10:30] is more common but [inaudible 00:10:37] is iron. I think that those three are the future not only for academic point of view but also from a individual point of view if the chemical industry really wants to move on from [inaudible 00:10:53], and I think that some of the pharma are already really committed to that. But that is [00:11:00] going to be how they are going to substitute [inaudible 00:11:06]. So how they are going to do [inaudible 00:11:10] elimination without palladium. So they need to look for... I'm thinking all that because [inaudible 00:11:15] that are not common to my [inaudible 00:11:17] and to my expertise, but there are a bunch of like [inaudible 00:11:21] there are a bunch of different transformation that involve [inaudible 00:11:25]. So if they really want to move to those expensive [00:11:30] and [inaudible 00:11:31] metal they need to really look for alternatives, and I think that we are the first that one. So [inaudible 00:11:42] labs, we are the ones that... we do baby steps for them like the big companies and just like they are able to implementation.
I think that over the past 10, 20 years, there are like a collaboration between industry and academia is [00:12:00] more common because both of us will realize that we are way more powerful, that we are not just doing the sum each expertise or knowledge, we can go way farther if we work together and we target specific goals that are not only interesting for us from a mental point of view that also can make an impact in the society because, yes, the population is growing [00:12:30] and now we want everything fast and better now than tomorrow, and we want to fulfill all our desires or requirements and keep being sustainable with our planet, we need to look for alternative, that for sure. We need to be smart and creative because if not, we are not going to be [inaudible 00:12:53] with the future innovations.
Paul Orange: That's very true. So you were hinting at there [00:13:00] these catalyst are used commonly in manufacture of pharmaceuticals as one example. I know there's many other examples, and as you said, moving away from palladium as a catalyst is then a great opportunity, and the opportunity is not just that it necessarily enables these different reactions but there is a direct short-term commercial impact as well. So [00:13:30] it isn't... I'm using air quotes for anybody listening, "It's not just academic curiosity, it's actual tangible impact on our ability to manufacture medicines," and I guess ultimately the cost and the ability to distribute them and if you know anything at the moment, new medicines being developed quickly and distributed quickly is something we need in the current world. So do you in your research... but then do you also take specific applications [00:14:00] that you work on as well to try and either understand or maybe optimize those applications?
Monica Perez-Te...: Yeah, so the group has changed a lot in the past year. So when we started, we were hardcore [inaudible 00:14:17] chemist, very focusing on the [inaudible 00:14:18] and over the past five year, we have gathered so much information that right now, we are employing all the knowledge that we know to start developing [00:14:30] new transformations. So before, we selected a couple of benchmark reactions to understand how they work and to make them more efficient, so we selecting some transformation that were already published and we wanted to prove that understanding how the reaction worked you can make it more efficient. And [inaudible 00:14:51] along the pathway we discovered, for example, [inaudible 00:14:55] alcohol are really good in [inaudible 00:14:59] reactions [00:15:00] and can speed up a lot the reaction, and that helps to reduce the catalyst [inaudible 00:15:07] to work at lower temperature or to shorter reaction times. And since we then we have try other [inaudible 00:15:16] like part of the [inaudible 00:15:19] that we have used as precatalyst and we have showed that we can work with [inaudible 00:15:23] this type of transformation.
But now we have [inaudible 00:15:23] from that information about why certain reactions don't work. So now we are trying to make them work and also observe what are the current synthetic limitation in cobalt chemistry, what are certain [inaudible 00:15:24] material that are not particularly good enough or are not so popular, and for example, our last paper was published in [inaudible 00:15:24] this year and we, for example, discovered that in a particular transformation, so in cobalt there are only three example of C-H fictionalization using [inaudible 00:15:26] partners. And that is shocking if you think that [inaudible 00:15:26] are one of the most prevalent [inaudible 00:15:26] partner in the initial metal catalyst. For example, the [inaudible 00:15:26] or these type of [00:15:30] things. So [inaudible 00:15:36]. So in cobalt [00:16:00] there were only three [00:16:30] examples in the [inaudible 00:16:32] and two of them involve [inaudible 00:16:35] forming reactions. So we investigate a little bit more and we discover that those transformation involve unusual high volume [inaudible 00:16:47] intermediates, but until that time, no one has proposed those intermediate in cobalt chemistry.
There were certain [inaudible 00:16:58] but [00:17:00] not in cobalt. So we were able to [inaudible 00:17:05] prove that from before it was proposed that reaction happened [inaudible 00:17:12] that, that intermediate was stable and nothing happened. But if you oxidize it, you form the [inaudible 00:17:23]. So now that we know that we need to trigger an oxidation to have that type of transformation, I'm [00:17:30] sure that not only us, other groups are going to keep exploring that and are going to be able to disclose more [inaudible 00:17:39] catalyst. And now from there, we are moving not only to those transformation, but also, yes, for example, what type of [inaudible 00:17:55] Let's see if we can make it work, [00:18:00] or what type of... And now so the [inaudible 00:18:05] was good for me in the sense that I have [inaudible 00:18:09] at least in Spain we were from March to May, so I keep working so because my work, my daily basis, I need to be in [inaudible 00:18:24] in my office.
But since the first of the people, they pretty much stop, I have more [00:18:30] time, at least at the beginning, so I have to start thinking what type of molecules are interesting to me, where we can make an impact and I start to talking companies [inaudible 00:18:43] talks in different [inaudible 00:18:44] industry, and I start realizing that we really can help. I really love fundamental chemistry and I think that we are the [inaudible 00:18:56] something. But [00:19:00] maybe if you ask me five years ago, I [inaudible 00:19:04].
Paul Orange: Right.
Monica Perez-Te...: And now I think that I super close to them that I can talking to them or knowing what we can make for them, makes our [inaudible 00:19:18] way easier because we are not so far. Maybe we are farther from the plans that we are not prepared for [inaudible 00:19:27], but we are not so far to tell them, " [00:19:30] Use [inaudible 00:19:32] or use these reactions conditions if you want to this." So I think that we can be really useful to that because I really like [inaudible 00:19:44] some point, we are exploring the path, but once that you know what you have to change, or what you need to target, what is the problem, what is the limitation that [inaudible 00:19:58] bottleneck? There [00:20:00] are not necessarily so many reactions to make a reaction to work. So our formula is important. So if you can detect the bottleneck and you can look for a couple of potential strategies to solve your problem, and you can go way faster.
Paul Orange: That feels like a fairly significant change, thought, from going from... Well the change, I guess, [00:20:30] is enabled because you develop this playbook where you start to understand the mechanisms and the process in more detail, and then put it application. So in the future for you and your group, do you see this now being sort of like two strands or do they just continue to interweave that you develop the playbook and then look at the applications or maybe even get asked to understand the mechanism behind a certain application?
Monica Perez-Te...: Well, [inaudible 00:20:59] [00:21:00] collaboration. So at the beginning, no. At the beginning we needed a starting point and based off my interest at the time and the [inaudible 00:21:08] we were more focus in the understanding how the reaction work, especially the ones that didn't work because there are a lot of people performing [inaudible 00:21:21] studies [inaudible 00:21:23] point of view. But there are not so many people focus on [00:21:30] trying to make work the reactions that they don't work. I think that is the twist that we try... There are more people, but there are not so many people. But now we have gathered so much information that now we are able to keep doing both. We are able to keep doing go way farther [inaudible 00:21:53] point of view, but also we have platform, we have our [inaudible 00:21:59] like our [00:22:00] intermediates, we call the knowledge building blocks. So we have our library of knowledge building blocks as people have library of [inaudible 00:22:06] or other things. We have the libraries of knowledge building blocks with different directing groups, with different... so we can more define them and from there we can make them [inaudible 00:22:24] with a bunch of different things.
So sometimes we can be going parallel. We can do the [inaudible 00:22:26] study at the same time that we try the Catalysis, [00:22:30] and [inaudible 00:22:31] the results and see if they make sense because sometimes what works in [inaudible 00:22:39] point of view doesn't work in Catalysis and vice versa. So by now we are trying to [inaudible 00:22:46] So people [inaudible 00:22:49] they are going in parallel. So they are doing both. So one of the things [inaudible 00:22:52] by now the [inaudible 00:22:53] change something [inaudible 00:22:54] which is super weird. It's fantastic but really weird. [00:23:00] So basically my role is to given all my knowledge in the [inaudible 00:23:06] investigation and they put their [inaudible 00:23:09] in the [inaudible 00:23:12] this point of view. So it's really powerful because sometimes what is key for me is not so key for them and the other way around, but maybe for them in like tiny [inaudible 00:23:25] is not important for this makes the difference because without that, the reaction doesn't work.
And that is what the... You [00:23:30] can get the rest from both [inaudible 00:23:37] because before we were really good in [inaudible 00:23:37] studies, but they synthetic part was a little bit [inaudible 00:23:46] but we didn't have the strength. So we did Catalysis but we selected model system as a starting point. Right now, we have the capability, so right now two very develop synthetic project and in one of them, we have [inaudible 00:24:00] [00:24:00] of more than 60 molecules, that is probably [inaudible 00:24:14]. In other we are close, we are more than 30. So that for me is like, okay, this is... Whoa, I couldn't imagine that four years ago.
But I think that the strength is have an open mind and have both words like being [00:24:30] communicated and works [inaudible 00:24:32] if you go back to the mechanism maybe too late, maybe you can spend one year [inaudible 00:24:41] something you can help [inaudible 00:24:45] work in one month. And in [inaudible 00:24:49] way around, if you only stay in the fundamental part, it's going to be fantastic as my of my peers, they are [inaudible 00:24:59] just to say [00:25:00] the goal, or our aim when [inaudible 00:25:05] is to be a paragraph in a textbook. So the bachelor students have access to your chemistry and I think that this, he wasn't thinking in [inaudible 00:25:19] we was thinking something that goes beyond a [inaudible 00:25:21] I love it.
However, after my [inaudible 00:25:26] after five years [inaudible 00:25:31] [00:25:30] I think that we can go far beyond. We can be a super powerful tool, especially for those fields that are [inaudible 00:25:39]. So if there are super well established field, probably the [inaudible 00:25:43] the information that you have on that field is really fast and you [inaudible 00:25:49] crucial but there is a emergent field. So for example, [inaudible 00:25:53] canalize it [inaudible 00:25:56] reaction [inaudible 00:25:57] example was published in 2013 by a Japanese group [inaudible 00:25:58]. So it's less than 10 [00:26:00] years ago. And our first paper was in 2017 and that was the first mechanistic paper on the topic. Since then other groups has been incorporated, but for example, we have published around the structure of 10, 15, reactive intermediates, but in a group we have more than [00:26:30] 60 or 70.
Paul Orange: Right.
Monica Perez-Te...: [inaudible 00:26:34] information that is still [inaudible 00:26:37] I used to say [inaudible 00:26:41]. So we have pieces of story, but we can only disclose [inaudible 00:26:47] story or a story that makes sense. But those other [inaudible 00:26:52] structure that we have and that we have explored [inaudible 00:26:55] give us a really panoramic [00:27:00] view of these type of transformations [inaudible 00:27:03] why they work or they don't work. Now we are trying to prove that this is together and correlate them with synthetic [inaudible 00:27:13]. But sometimes it's easier, sometimes it's more tricky, but the group is fantastic. The former members, the current members, they are all very talented, really hard workers, and they really embrace, and for me it's really important that they embrace kind [00:27:30] of like, this is our philosophy, and the way that I think I consider that as a personal point of view, I don't ask anyone to share it, maybe just my team, but that is how I think that we can advance. And I also see science, in particular chemistry, with less barriers.
So when I was doing my degree, we have like organic chemistry here, organic chemistry here, physical [inaudible 00:27:59] here. I think [00:28:00] that by now we need to remove those barriers. We have chemistry and now even more we have collaboration [inaudible 00:28:09] with physicists, with mathematicians. So I think that we need to see science as a very big product field that depending what you want to do, you go to one place or another. But don't say, "Oh, no, I'm not [inaudible 00:28:25]. No, I only use this because I cannot do more." No, [00:28:30] this is my strength, but I want to use this to go farther. So if I can do it by myself, great. But if not, let's collaborate with other people.
Paul Orange: Yes.
Monica Perez-Te...: I collaborate with [inaudible 00:28:49] people, with [inaudible 00:28:49] people, with [inaudible 00:28:49] because you cannot know everything.
Paul Orange: No. And I think that's a message that I've heard from almost everybody I've had on the show is this need to collaborate [00:29:00] more. I certainly do know what it was like when you did your PhD, but there was always this feeling that whether it's PhD or postdoc you end up knowing more about an ever smaller field of study and there are very few people who can have the depth and breadth and so then the collaboration and become super important. Yeah, I think I've heard that [inaudible 00:29:24] again. If I can, I'd like to sort of maybe step back into the mechanistic bit because [00:29:30] one of the things that I couldn't get my head around is... and as you were explaining very early on, you've got these intermediaries in your reaction, it's not just A + B giving C. But these intermediaries, they exist for very short periods of time and then, obviously, themselves interact with everything else that's in the reaction mixture.
So physically what are the tools that you use to study those intermediaries [00:30:00] and, I guess, also coming back to what you said about thinking about sort of almost failed reactions, how do you even kind of start to understand, well what the intermediaries because I might A + B giving me C, D, E, but F isn't working, so then reaction does... I mean, it blows my mind how you even sort of start to think about that, let alone study it.
Monica Perez-Te...: So both sample when we are started, the intermediate that we working for, for example, in [inaudible 00:30:28] there were easily [inaudible 00:30:30]. [00:30:30] So we thought and in cobalt chemistry in the [inaudible 00:30:43] so basically we are proposing [inaudible 00:30:43] is reversible and is one of the main reason that you cannot isolate this intermediate. So basically this is [inaudible 00:30:50] that is [inaudible 00:30:50] material. So [inaudible 00:30:52] physically or [inaudible 00:30:55] focus on [00:31:00] genetic studies and thermodynamics and genetics, and I thought, "If this is [inaudible 00:31:05] let's see if they can [inaudible 00:31:06] the other way around." So basically what we look for, it was put a [inaudible 00:31:12] that can load energy of a intermediate that was [inaudible 00:31:16] stable. The first surprise, so when we did it, so we were [inaudible 00:31:20] and the first surprise and it was, "Okay, if we are able to isolate this, that is going to mean that it's going to be active as a catalyst," because normally if you [00:31:30] isolate something, that means that it's stable enough and the [inaudible 00:31:32] normally is less stable. The big surprise was that it was more active than the normal catalyst that we were using in [inaudible 00:31:33] chemistry.
So we found a very subtle equilibrium between reactivity and stability because this [inaudible 00:31:33] they were good enough to isolate them, in some cases, we working at [inaudible 00:32:00] [00:32:00] and in some cases depending on the structure of the intermediate, they are perfectly stable outside the box, even if there are [inaudible 00:32:06] really hight humidity [inaudible 00:32:10] it is remarkable. But [inaudible 00:32:14] are good enough that in their reaction conditions that we are working, they are [inaudible 00:32:19] and they allow to create an [inaudible 00:32:23] coordination site to [inaudible 00:32:25] subsequent copying partner. And from there, we are not able to isolate, but we are able to monitor them by normally [inaudible 00:32:32]. So because it's [inaudible 00:32:32] technique to follow lead. But it's great when you have a starting point when you find [inaudible 00:32:32] to subsequent [00:32:30] monitor the reaction because [00:33:00] after that, we will [inaudible 00:33:02] Catalysis, we put a high catalyst [inaudible 00:33:04] and once that we know what we are looking for, we look for those signal in [inaudible 00:33:10]
So because of that, we have this as [inaudible 00:33:13] catalyst and [inaudible 00:33:15] studies because the [inaudible 00:33:17] studies, this is our kind of proposal. We think that this is what is happening. So after we got to Catalysis and we look for the same signals and we condense [inaudible 00:33:31] [00:33:30] we what is the [inaudible 00:33:34] not every time we can see everything, but, for example, in the first paper that we published in 2017, I know they allowed to say that we [inaudible 00:33:43] they needed because people say that you cannot say that because if you don't see it, that doesn't mean that doesn't exist, but we were able to observe at least 50 [inaudible 00:33:53] cobalt intermediates. And [inaudible 00:33:56] offered us to make the cover, so we [00:34:00] design a camera taking pictures because we show that the [inaudible 00:34:06] the frames of the picture it was a really [inaudible 00:34:09] one, so we were able to take like a snapshot of each element that belongs to a catalytic [inaudible 00:34:16].
So sometimes now that we have this platform of well defined intermediates, we can explore more things. Now that we are moving to way more [00:34:30] challenging transformation, so events we don't have intermediates, yes, yet it's been more [inaudible 00:34:36]. So we are trying refine our protocol to get more complex intermediate but that is not easy and we are working really hard on that. But yeah, so we thought the first goal was to design a strategy and we have two different synthetic roots [inaudible 00:34:56] this intermediate that we thought that they were the reactive intermediates. [inaudible 00:34:56] we intermediate that like we test it as a catalyst in the transformation that we are investigating and in this case, we should observe the transformation in compatible deals that what is reported [inaudible 00:34:56] other catalyst that we know that is effective, and once that we know what, we look for [inaudible 00:34:56] Catalysis to prove for sure that we observe the [inaudible 00:34:56] in Catalysis and in the [inaudible 00:34:56].
So that is our approach so far, but, again, we started in simple systems, now that we are moving to more complex it's really fun. But we need to refine our rules for our strategy. So if [00:35:00] we are not able to isolate them, we need to look for an alternative to maybe observe an [inaudible 00:35:08] because we have some [inaudible 00:35:08] for example, I don't think that I did during [00:35:30] my [00:36:00] PhD and we are going back to that. We use [inaudible 00:36:08]. So we put a [inaudible 00:36:10] handle in our molecule because that facilitate a lot. So we have [inaudible 00:36:15] signal. So because in proton they overlap, if you have intermediate that maybe is 10% and it's overlap with starting material product if you don't see it. [00:36:30] However, [inaudible 00:36:31] is really a nice [inaudible 00:36:34] to follow because there are not so many signals, and the chemical [inaudible 00:36:37] is really the agnostic of the type of [inaudible 00:36:37] if you have [inaudible 00:36:43] spaces or you have organic product or certain materials. So within our strategy we are evolving depending of the requirements of our reaction of [inaudible 00:36:58]
Paul Orange: And [00:37:00] when you talk about like the simpler reactions and the more complex, from your point of view is that the number of these intermediaries or could it just be more complex because of, I mean, the overall way the reaction works? As a non-chemist, how do you define [00:37:30] sort of a simpler and a more complex reaction?
Monica Perez-Te...: For me, reaction is simple if I can understand. If I don't know what each component does, you can a lot things going on, but if you know I need to add this because of this, I need to... For me, it's not simple, but for me simple. The complexity comes from the starting material that you are using. For example, [inaudible 00:37:49] activation would be now it's a tool to use, but it's not implemented in latest stage fictionalization [inaudible 00:37:58] [00:38:00] because one of the biggest problem is like any organic molecule has a bit of [inaudible 00:38:06] just break the one that you want, sometimes it's not so simple. That is the complexity [inaudible 00:38:12] because of the starting material that the selectivity of reaction can be a problem.
Other complexity can come because the type of product that you are forming because you can't combine, you can't [inaudible 00:38:27] reaction when you want to [inaudible 00:38:29] three, four, things at [00:38:30] the same time. So it's that complex, and the complexity comes when you want to use [inaudible 00:38:37] metal as catalyst that has not been used in that that type of transformation and you need to figure it out, all the additives, what they do because that is one of my long-term goals, I really want to know what additives do because one thing that really bothers me is not in general, also in our cases, but when [00:39:00] you [inaudible 00:39:00] in a chemical transformation [inaudible 00:39:03] you have a bunch of things that you what do, but you know you need them because [inaudible 00:39:10] move one the reaction [inaudible 00:39:11] but most of the time, those additives never appear in the catalytic cycle.
Paul Orange: Right.
Monica Perez-Te...: And that is a problem, and we don't pay enough attention to that, and I think that we should because when you remove something, that doesn't appear in the catalytic cycle and that reaction doesn't work, that should make [00:39:30] you think. So I'm truly [inaudible 00:39:34] and truly I [inaudible 00:39:35] to my students because I'm really obsessed with that. So that is complexity, like for example, [inaudible 00:39:40] metal, salt, [inaudible 00:39:42] and if you remove it, it's not working. And our last paper, the one that we discovered that we need to promote the [inaudible 00:39:52] cobalt (IV) [inaudible 00:39:56] was a silver nucleophile, the silver nucleophile in that case [00:40:00] also was also was acting as an oxidant, and it was the one that was oxidation [inaudible 00:40:04]
But and you don't have the intermediate and you can mix it with that silver nucleophile and see that something has been happening because if you only [inaudible 00:40:17] the intermediate, in principle it does the chemistry and nothing happened, and if you add the silver and something happened that indicated you that [00:40:30] you go to a higher oxidation state that is not cobalt (III) you don't have an answer for that. Most of the people propose logic things. The problem is that the logic that doesn't mean that when it's happening but to really uncover why it's happening, you need a platform, you need those intermediates because [inaudible 00:40:51] is really, really hard. And [inaudible 00:40:56] it's not so trivial to not only access them but also [00:41:00] make the reaction understand how they [inaudible 00:41:02].
So you need some expertise in [inaudible 00:41:08] you need a [inaudible 00:41:09] or be an expert with [inaudible 00:41:11] techniques and being able to work with pretty sensitive stuff and sometimes not only people don't have those skills, I don't have those skills, for example , for doing the [inaudible 00:41:21]. I really admire people that [inaudible 00:41:25] because I think that is hard. But we have different expertise and what [00:41:30] I want to do is that my people is way better and [inaudible 00:41:35] at that age. So I want them to make us compete as [inaudible 00:41:40] as possible. So for example, pretty much all the [inaudible 00:41:44] students, they are [inaudible 00:41:47] chemist, they perform the FD calculations and they know now more advanced but synthetic organisms, especially dialysis. So I want [00:42:00] them to have a way more comprehensive view than I had that doing my PhD because I think that they can [inaudible 00:42:10] than I am. So that is my goal.
Paul Orange: Wow, I think that's amazing to hear. I think you'll probably have people sending you applications to come join your lab after hearing that.
Monica Perez-Te...: But I really think it. So only look for, of course, smart people, but fully committed people, [00:42:30] people that are the work here is crucial, if you don't like to work with people, don't come here because you are going to be [inaudible 00:42:39] hours to work with others and [inaudible 00:42:42] and have an open mind, [inaudible 00:42:49] in sense wanting to know more of why things work, and really honest because when you do make [inaudible 00:42:58] [00:43:00] and making mistakes because if you make wrong interpretation in certain things, you completely mislead your own conclusion and you can propose that something happens in a way that is not happening. At that time and during my [inaudible 00:43:14] I had someone, I'd call them my [inaudible 00:43:17] my product supervisor, they are now [inaudible 00:43:22].
So I want my people to take risk of exploring things, but after that we discuss if what we have [00:43:30] is reasonable or not, but for knowing that is really important that they tell me what those experiment that don't work. Those are the ones especially that I want to know more because sometimes are the ones that give you more information. [inaudible 00:43:50] so this work great. If we though that this would work and it works, nothing is special. But I want you to [00:44:00] tell me everything, don't hide me anything because [inaudible 00:44:06] point of view every single detail that you think that is not [inaudible 00:44:09] going to say that because [inaudible 00:44:11] didn't work, no, no, tell me because there are [inaudible 00:44:16] for understanding and other things. And that is part of the personality because you need to be open and [00:44:30] willing to recognize that you didn't succeed, for me it's not true because every single reaction that give you information is success.
The problem, some people just are looking for the good ones, I'm looking for all of them because one of the biggest problems right now, at least from my point of view, in the chemical community, is that we only publish those things that work, now sometimes it's more common sometimes in the scientific [00:45:00] paper [inaudible 00:45:01] were unsuccessful [inaudible 00:45:03]. But those are the ones that are giving you more like not only [inaudible 00:45:08] the limitation of the [inaudible 00:45:08] that is super important, especially if you want to go to industry, but also those are telling you more about [inaudible 00:45:18] about the [inaudible 00:45:21] why that didn't work. So I think that's commodity we need to change, we need to be open to say, "Hey, I tried these bunch of things and they didn't work [00:45:30] and now because of that [inaudible 00:45:34] to get my paper." But I think we want to just do this [inaudible 00:45:41] or this super deep [inaudible 00:45:44] studies because they're not good enough.
But those things I do try but sometimes are a small figure or a footnotes in the [inaudible 00:45:54] information, that is really important too. But that doesn't mean that our work shouldn't be published because were then able to instead of doing [00:46:00] 40 [inaudible 00:46:02] we only did 20 and [inaudible 00:46:06] any more and they didn't work. Okay, but see if it makes sense, no. If those people like explain why they think that it didn't work because sometimes that is really important too. So for my students, I also look for that and I'm willing to recognize, "I try these bunch of things, that didn't work, but I was this, this, and this. What do you think?" And from there we can start talking, if it's normal, if we can rationalize it [00:46:30] or not. But I consider this sensitive because our past, when we would talk to our supervisor, we went to her with a super long page, all of like with positive checks. Like, "I did and it worked." And just what is in the bottom of the page? "Yes, by the way and this."
Sometimes those things should on the top because [00:47:00] from there, you can design or find new things. So that's a little bit of the philosophy that I want to give to my people. So being smart is really important, I think that is more important being hard worker because if you want to learn, you can [inaudible 00:47:14] wherever you want. You need to have really high ethical standards, that is super important for me [inaudible 00:47:27] important, [00:47:30] and you just need to be in this because you like it. It's because of fame, money, for sure no. So this is not a easy job, I used to so that the best and worst days of my life I've been in my lab, or in my office.
Paul Orange: Yeah, yeah.
Monica Perez-Te...: And you need to accept that if you don't like it, if you are not really committed [00:48:00] and you have done a chemical degree, there are a bunch of different jobs that you can do and [inaudible 00:48:06] you can be super happy. Not everyone needs to have a PhD or needs to do a postdoc. I think that, that is a really personal option and you need to be sure. But once you take that option, do the job, and when I say do the job, it's not to work 15 hours, it's like being committed, take care [00:48:30] of your project, be curios about how much I can learn, how far I can go, [inaudible 00:48:38] talk to other people in your lab, in other labs to learn more, and don't [inaudible 00:48:47] barriers, just be open to learn about whatever because you never know once you are in a biochemical lecture and something is going to... a light is [00:49:00] going to just turn on in your brain and say, "Hey, this is not exactly what I'm doing, but [inaudible 00:49:06] changes and can I take it to my field? Can I make in other ways and maybe I can provide something back to the community that they cannot do yet?"
So that the experience that I gather over the last 15 years. Indeed, tomorrow in my 10th year anniversary of my PhD.
Paul Orange: Well, congratulations for that
Monica Perez-Te...: Indeed, [inaudible 00:49:28]. So in 10 years my view has changed a lot. So in 10 year I did [00:49:30] my PhD, my hometown, I was really lucky that I did [inaudible 00:49:40] where I did, but it was a really tiny university where we didn't have access to speakers or something that, it was pretty limited. I moved to United States, I discovered a completely new world and then I started my [inaudible 00:49:55] career that is super challenging in Spain, in [00:50:00] one of the best research centers in Europe and even in the world. So it was challenging but makes me give the best version of myself. I think that if you give the best version of yourself, you cannot ask for more.
Paul Orange: I would agree with that. I would agree with that. And Monica, I think that's some really good advice that we can probably finish up on. I know I didn't get a chance to ask you about [00:50:30] your award from [inaudible 00:50:32] but I will put some links in the show notes and people can go and look that up. But [inaudible 00:50:38] and I honestly can't believe that we're kind of running up against the end of time, it seems to have just flown by.
Monica Perez-Te...: I told you I talk a lot.
Paul Orange: But the important thing is that you say something that worth listening to.
Monica Perez-Te...: Thank you.
Paul Orange: So, I mean, for me, it's been a real pleasure and I hope the audience get a lot out of this. Well, Monica, I hope that you continue [00:51:00] to promote this field, to keep the [inaudible 00:51:03] applications and I think also that your team in your lab realize how lucky they are to have somebody like you driving them and thinking in a way that you do. I think it's going to set them all up incredibly well for their careers and hopefully spawn a population of other labs doing really amazing stuff. So [00:51:30] thank you very much for your time this morning.
Monica Perez-Te...: Thank you, Paul, it has been a pleasure.
Paul Orange: Thanks for listening all the way through to the end of the show today, and I hope that you enjoyed the discussion that Monica and I had half as much as I enjoyed recording it in the first place. I want to thank Monica for her time and, obviously, for her passion and energy which I think came across really clearly in the discussion. I have put links to her lab website in the show notes, so if you're interested in looking into what her and her group do in a little bit more detail, [00:52:00] you'll find information there, you'll also find in the website links to some of the publications that she mentioned during our discussion.
We're always looking for guests for the show. We've got a couple lined up. I'm really excited about those and bringing those interviews to you. But if you would like to nominate somebody, whether it's someone you know or yourself, please do, we certainly won't tell anybody if you nominate yourself. And if you've enjoyed the show, please do subscribe, if you [00:52:30] subscribe in whatever podcast app you listen to, the next episode will drop right into to your feed. But until we're back with you for episode number 16, take good care of yourselves.
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