Donna Blackmond, PhD

John C. Martin Chair
Department of Chemistry


Scripps Research Joint Appointments

Faculty, Graduate Program

Research Focus

Kinetic Methodology. Blackmond has pioneered the development of Reaction Progress Kinetic Analysis (RPKA), a methodology combining highly accurate in-situ data collection with a rigorous mathematical analysis that permits rapid determination of concentration dependences of reactants. In contrast to the classical role of kinetics, in which measurements of concentration dependences most often are asked simply to corroborate a previously proposed mechanism, the Blackmond group’s approach is to employ kinetic studies at the outset of an investigation of ill-defined reaction network to suggest reaction mechanisms. This “kinetic-assisted mechanistic analysis” aids in the design of further supporting experiments including conventional mechanistic tools such as studies of isotope effects and spectroscopic studies for structural and compositional information. One of the most powerful aspects of the methodology is its ability to deconvolute rate processes occurring on the catalytic cycle from those occurring off the cycle. Prominent examples of the application of this methodology to quantitative understanding of complex organic reactions and reaction networks include asymmetric hydrogenation, asymmetric organocatalytic reactions, Pd-catalyzed C-C and C-N bond forming reactions, and transition-metal catalyzed competitive reactions including kinetic resolutions. Reaction Progress Kinetic Analysis finds important application in the pharmaceutical industry, where streamlining process R&D based on Blackmond’s kinetic analysis is becoming an industry-wide standard.

Nonlinear effects of catalyst enantiopurity.
Experimental and theoretical studies in the Blackmond group have derived relationships between catalyst ee and reaction rate that complement the standard tool of studying product ee as a function of catalyst ee. Prof. Blackmond’s work provides a means of testing proposed models for nonlinear effects and expands the power of studies of nonlinear effects to serve as a meaningful mechanistic probe. The concepts developed in this work led Prof. Blackmond to consideration of what has been termed the “ultimate nonlinear effect”, that of the origin of biological homochirality. She carried out the first kinetic studies and developed the first kinetic model exploring the mechanism of asymmetric amplification in the Soai autocatalytic reaction. She continues investigations of this reaction, with current projects focusing on determining the nature of the transition state species in this reaction as well as probing spatiotemporal aspects of absolute asymmetric synthesis by carrying out autocatalysis in well-defined microfluidic reactor networks.

Biological homochirality and amino acid phase behavior. More recently Prof. Blackmond has expanded the range of models to rationalize the origin of biological homochirality from proposals based purely on chemical reactions to those based on physical phase behavior of chiral molecules as well as a combination of chemical and physical processes. She has demonstrated that highly enantioenriched solutions of amino acids can be produced from nearly racemic mixtures via solution-solid partitioning of the enantiomers. Reactions catalyzed by amino acids that are carried out in such systems show nonlinear product ee consistent with this highly enantioenriched solution composition. This concept was then greatly expanded in scope with the discovery that eutetic compositions could be “tuned” by judicious choice of additives that alter crystal structure and solubility. In sharp contrast to autocatalytic reaction models, which invoke “far-from-equilibrium” behavior, this eutectic model is a pure equilibrium treatment. This distinction has important implications for scenarios concerning the time course over which the evolution of homochirality may have developed. Probing the phase behavior of amino acids in conjunction with solution racemization led to separate work showing how one hand of a chiral solid could be transformed completely into its enantiomorph from a nearly racemic mixture of the two. Because interconversion in solution allows an enantiomer that had been part of an L crystal to become part of a D crystal, this has been dubbed the “chiral amnesia” process.


Ph.D. (Chemical Engineering), Carnegie Mellon University, 1984
M.S. (Chemical Engineering), University of Pittsburgh, 1981
B.S. (Chemical Engineering), University of Pittsburgh, 1980

Professional Experience

2004-2010 Chair in Catalysis, Imperial College London
2004-2010 Professor of Chemistry, Imperial College London
2004-2010 Professor of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London
1999-2003 Professor and Chair in Physical Chemistry, University of Hull
1996-1999 Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Coal Research
1992-1999 Adjunct Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh
1995-1996 Professor of Technical Chemistry, University of Essen
1992-1995 Associate Director, Technical Operations, Merck & Co., Inc.
1989-1992 Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and BP America Faculty Fellow, University of Pittsburgh
1984-1989 Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

Awards & Professional Activities

Elected to the National Academy of Engineering (2013)
The Royal Society of Chemistry Physical Organic Chemistry Award (2009)
The Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2007-2012)
Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, American Chemical Society (2005)
Paul Rylander Award of the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society (2003)
Royal Society of Chemistry Award in Process Technology (2002)
Paul H. Emmett Award in Fundamental Catalysis North American Catalysis Society (2001)
Max-Planck-Society Award for Outstanding Women Scientists (1998)
National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award (1985-90)

Selected References

All Publications

"Evolution of Solid-Phase Homochirality for a Proteinogenic Amino Acid," J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2008, ASAP (with C. Viedma, J.E. Ortiz, T. de Torres, T. Izumi).

"Clarification of the Role of Water in Proline-Mediated Aldol Reactions," J.Am. Chem. Soc, 2007, 129, 15100 (with N. Zotova, A. Franzke, A. Armstrong).

"Thermodynamic Control of Asymmetric Amplification in Amino Acid Catalysis," Nature, 2006, 441, 621. (with M. Klussmann, H. Iwamura, S .P. Mathew, D. H. Wells, Jr., U. Pandya, A. Armstrong).

"Reaction Progress Kinetic Analysis: A Powerful Methodology for for Mechanistic Studies of Complex Catalytic Reactions", Angew. Chemie Int. Ed., 2005, 44, 4302 (sole author, invited Review article, cover feature).