Professor Daniel Weix Joins the Department in Summer 2017

This summer, Professor Daniel Weix and members of his research group will join the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry. He is currently an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester.

Weix earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, where he worked with Professor Thomas Katz (B.A. ’56). He completed postdoctoral fellowships at Yale University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Dan has established himself as a pioneer in the field of homogeneous catalysis, especially in the development of reductive or cross-electrophile coupling reactions,” Professor Shannon Stahl says. “There are many possible applications of this chemistry, for example, in the preparation of pharmaceuticals or agrochemicals. He has accomplished things that others in the field may have considered previously, but thought ‘There’s no way it will work.’ Well, the chemistry he’s developed not only works, but also is practical. His work is now the basis for research that is being pursued by many other groups, and it is already being applied in industry.”

Read on to learn more about research in the Weix group, Weix’s path to discovering organic chemistry, and his affinity for Wisconsin football teams.

What’s the focus of your research?

We focus on the development of new reactions and new mechanisms with a particular emphasis on unusual chemistry with practical applications.  We have been particularly involved in the development of cross-electrophile coupling, nickel catalysis, cross-coupling of organic radicals, and cooperative multimetallic catalysis.  Recently, we started a new project with Professor Krauss exploring the use of nanomaterials for photoredox catalysis.

What most excites you about coming to UW-Madison?

I am most excited to join such a talented group of people working in the area of catalysis. A close second is going to my first Badger football game!

What can students expect from you in class or in the lab?

I love the unusual – the examples that, at first, look like exceptions, but upon later review can be explained. I also have a love for demonstrations and large-scale synthesis.

Who is a scientist who has played a role in inspiring your work?

This is hard to answer because there have been so many! My research advisors are especially close to my heart (Tom Katz, Jon Ellman, and John Hartwig). Tom Katz (BA from UW in 1956), my undergraduate research advisor, was instrumental because it was in his lab that I learned about how organic chemistry can be a creative science. To paraphrase Shaw, we can look at what isn’t, ask ‘Why not?’ and then try to make it anyway! Jon Ellman showed me the practical side of chemistry and challenged me to create reactions that would change how people did chemistry. John Hartwig opened the world of transition metal catalysis to me and showed me that the study of mechanism was an integral part of creating great reactions. Besides those three, I would mention Henri Kagan, whose creativity and breadth I have always found inspirational, and my students, who have taught me so much.

When did you know you wanted to become a scientist?

As a young child, I never considered it as a career — I didn’t know anyone who worked in research and had no concept of what a scientist really was. The change came in high school. I always enjoyed the sciences, but AP chemistry in high school came as a revelation. I was riveted by Mr. Stenmark’s lectures and creative demonstrations. Because I also enjoyed biology, I entered college thinking about biochemistry or biology, but, again, amazing instructors changed my path. This time it was the late Professor Nick Turro and Professor Tom Katz in a freshman organic chemistry course. I could not believe how amazing organic chemistry was! That very year I started working in Nick’s lab, then later moved to Tom’s lab, and never looked back.

Where did you grow up? How has this influenced you?

I grew up in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which is a mid-sized suburb of Milwaukee (about 30,000 residents when I lived there). Oak Creek had a big influence on me — I found my two loves, chemistry and my wife, at Oak Creek High School.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your work?

Outside of work, I spend the majority of my time with my wife and our three children, but when I have time alone I like listening to football games (Go Badgers, Go Pack), rock climbing, and running. With the kids, we like outdoor activities, reading, and games.

—Libby Dowdall