When Marta Antoniv ’17 explains her summer research, she pulls out a pencil and paper. Antoniv is working alongside Assistant Visiting Professor of Chemistry Daniel Griffith ’07 to help identify a novel method of synthesizing nitrogen-containing, seven-membered rings, a process which may aid researchers in developing pharmaceutical drugs. Thankfully, she provided an explanation.
Antoniv introduced her research by sketching a dizzyingly knotty molecule, which she branded a Daphnicyclidin. “Modern medicinal drugs are generally small molecules that are flat, contain five or six-membered rings, and are nitrogenous (contain nitrogen)”, said Antoniv. In other words, modern medicinal drugs are relatively uncomplicated. “But in nature,” she continued, pointing to the Daphnicyclidin, “molecules are often more complex.”
Daphnicyclidins, she explained, are a naturally occurring family of compounds that can be extracted from a plant species in Southeast Asia. Its intricate molecular structure includes a characteristic ring that, when sketched on paper, resembles a coin with seven flat sides. Antoniv, and student research assistants in Professor Griffith’s group, are specifically interested in recreating this seven-“membered” (it contains seven atoms) ring structure in the laboratory this summer.
Ring-structures are exceedingly common in plant-derived molecules. However, because the rings vary in size and shape, some prove more difficult to create, or synthesize, in the laboratory than others. The seven-membered ring, such as that found in Daphnicyclidins, is notoriously difficult. To perform this elusive synthesis requires creativity from chemists in their use of reactants, heat, and time.
As a chemistry major and art minor, Antoniv notes that her artistic creativity compliments well the creativity required in her chemistry research. "Both chemists and artists must use inventiveness and innovation in their respective areas, and though chemists spend a lot of time in the lab and artists in the studio, both experience very hands-on settings."
Although clever and creative chemists have synthesized the seven-membered ring, the method to do so is time-intensive, indirect, and yields an insufficient quantity of desired product. Therefore, the Griffith team not only seeks to identify a novel method of synthesizing the seven-membered ring, but also strives to streamline the procedure.
“In drug research, [the researchers] try to make the drugs fast and use reliable, known reactions,” Antoniv emphasized. By accomplishing their research goals, the Griffith team could help future chemists hurdle procedural barriers that have so far precluded use of seven-membered ring compounds.
Seven-membered ring compounds are predicted to have innumerable pharmaceutical applications. Therefore, greater freedom to experiment with them could open many under-utilized avenues of pharmaceutical drug research. By facilitating the synthesis of this class of molecule, Antoniv and Professor Griffith’s research group works toward exciting prospects of applied organic chemistry.
Antoniv is a graduate of Dominican Academy. Ridgewood, N.Y.