UCLA’S Neil Garg Selected as 2019 Leete Awardee

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The ACS Division of Organic Chemistry is pleased to announce that the 2019 Leete Award has been bestowed upon Neil Garg, the Kenneth N. Trueblood Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Established in 1995, the Leete Award recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching and research in Organic Chemistry. The award honors Edward Leete of the University of Minnesota, who, through his contributions to science and education, fostered an appreciation and love for organic chemistry. The award consists of a plaque and a cash award and will be formally presented at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego, in August 2019.

Professor Garg received his BS degree from New York University and his PhD from Cal Tech, where he worked with Brian Stoltz in the field of total synthesis. Following a NIH postdoctoral fellowship at UC Irvine with Larry Overman, Garg joined the faculty of UCLA in 2007.  

Garg’s independent research encompasses numerous aspects of synthetic organic chemistry. His creative work in synthetic methodology has included the synthesis and applications of strained heterocycles such as indolynes, pyridynes, and azacyclic allenes, which provide access to complex alkaloids and medicinally relevant substances. A notable example appears in the Garg lab’s total syntheses of welwitindolinone alkaloids, which are among the best-known of syntheses of over 20 intricate natural product syntheses that the group has published. More recently, Garg has published groundbreaking studies on nickel-catalyzed reactions of amides, belying the conventional view of amides as unreactive functionalities. Recognition for his research efforts has included receipt of the EJ Corey and Cope Scholar Awards from the American Chemical Society. He was selected as a Fellow of both the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018.

Throughout his career, Neil Garg has demonstrated a profound commitment to education. He and his family live in the UCLA dormitories as part of the UCLA Faculty-in-Residence Program. With regard to organic chemistry teaching, nominator Professor Ken Houk states that Garg “has an uncanny knack for taking one of the most feared and commonly disliked classes – organic chemistry – and making it fun and accessible to young people, despite making his course quite challenging.” In addition to excellence in teaching, Garg has produced teaching resources that have been widely adopted among the chemistry community and the public. These include learnbacon.com, an independent learning tutorial for organic chemistry students, qrchem.net, the Backside Attack smartphone application, and a chemistry coloring book for children. His efforts in education have been recognized through many awards, including being named California’s Professor of the Year in 2015 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education, and his receipt of the 2018 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, which is the largest university teaching prize anywhere in the world.