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Prof R B Sunoj from IIT Bombay awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize 2019 for his research on organic chemical reactions

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Prof R B Sunoj from IIT Bombay awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize 2019 for his research on organic chemical reactions

Prof R B Sunoj of the Department of Chemistry of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay has received the 2019 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The prize recognizes his outstanding contributions for providing molecular level insights on organic reaction mechanisms.

Prof Sunoj and his group work on understanding how molecular vibrations and electronic transitions happen during chemical reactions, and how catalysts and other external factors influence a chemical reaction. They use computational methods to predict the outcome of reactions in organic chemistry.

Molecules have a three dimensional arrangement of atoms. A methane molecule, for example, is tetrahedral and sulphur fluoride is octahedral. Sometimes, although the constituent atoms of a molecule are the same, they may be arranged in shapes that cannot be superimposed on each other. Such molecules are called chiral molecules and the different forms are called enantiomers. Some molecules could have enantiomers that are mirror images of each other, and could be left handed or right handed. These have very different chemical properties, one form could be medicinal while the other could be poisonous! For example, one form of penicillamine is useful for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, whereas the other form is toxic.

Prof Sunoj and his team explore why some chemical reactions generate more molecules of a certain handedness that the other. They are looking at designing chemical reactions that favour molecules of a specific handedness.

“This knowledge can be employed in the design of new and improved catalytic transformations for making pharmaceutically important compounds,'' says Prof Sunoj.

Other research interests of Prof Sunoj’s group include designing catalysts, studying the effects of solvents, and the study of structure and properties of organic and inorganic complexes.

“We effectively adopt a combination of computational chemistry and artificial intelligence to design new catalysts,” comments Prof Sunoj.

The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize recognises exemplary research in the country and the honour is a testimonial to the breakthrough research at Prof Sunoj’s lab. The award, named after the founder director of CSIR, Sir Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, consists of ₹5,00,000 prize money, a citation plaque and a fellowship of ₹15,000 per month until the age of 65.