Chemistry makes key hire

After a year of negotiations, Yale’s Chemistry Department has landed what Provost Peter Salovey called its most important hire in the past few years.

Jonathan Ellman, a professor of organic chemistry and chemical biology in the University of California at Berkeley’s top-ranked chemistry department, will join Yale’s faculty this fall. Salovey said Ellman’s hire will fill a long-standing void in Yale’s synthetic and organic chemistry faculty and could be a boon for the department as a whole. Ellman will join the new Institute for Chemical Diversity, Evolution and Function at the West Campus, a research center devoted to chemical biology and its interdisciplinary applications in fields such as medicine and biomedical engineering.

Professor Jonathan Ellman won awards for his teaching at UC Berkeley.
Jonathan Ellman
Professor Jonathan Ellman won awards for his teaching at UC Berkeley.

“One of the most important things about hiring a distinguished person in a field is that distinction attracts further distinction,” Salovey said. “People are more likely to respond to offers from Yale.”

Ellman directs 17 undergraduate and graduate researchers at his Berkeley lab, which focuses on designing new methods for synthesizing amine-containing compounds and applying chemistry to characterize biological systems, with the ultimate goal of advancing the treatment of some diseases, according to his lab’s Web site. His teaching responsibilities include overseeing several independent study and research seminars in chemistry.

Ellman said the opportunity to do research in conjunction with the Chemistry Department, the Medical School and the new science centers at West Campus strongly influenced his decision to come to Yale.

“There are huge opportunities to apply chemistry in a really productive way,” Ellman said.

Chemistry Department chair Scott Miller said Ellman has a strong reputation as a mentor and teacher, explaining that many of Ellman’s students have gone on to be successful researchers in both academics and private industry. Though Miller said he expects Ellman to supervise more student research at Yale, he declined to say which classes Ellman will teach next semester.

Ellman said he will not teach in fall as he moves his wife and daughter to Connecticut, but that he expects to teach organic chemistry, chemical biology and courses related to the discovery of new pharmaceuticals.

“He is an award-winning teacher,” Miller said, referring to Ellman’s 1998 teaching award from Berkeley’s chemistry department. “He is very enthusiastic about teaching undergrads as well as graduate student courses and he is very experienced in both.”

Chemistry professor Alanna Schepartz, who serves as chair of the Institute’s advisory committee, said Ellman’s hire is the result of a search for faculty who are leaders in the field of chemical biology and who would also benefit from the West Campus’ emphasis on multi-disciplinary science.

Ellman came to campus in January to give a lecture on substrate activity screening for the Connecticut Organic Symposium, a series of talks on organic chemistry hosted by Yale’s Chemistry Department.

Ellman completed his doctorate in organic chemistry at Harvard University in 1989, and earned his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984.

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