Julius Rebek, JR, PhD

Professor Emeritus
Department of Chemistry


Scripps Research Joint Appointments

Faculty, Graduate Program

Research Focus

Molecular Studies

Studies in molecular recognition and catalysis
We have developed a series of synthetic receptors for small biorelevant molecular targets. These systems are container molecules, deep cavitands, that more-or-less surround the targets and present them with functional groups. This arrangement allows isolation and direct observation of reactive intermediates and catalysis of reactions with large rate enhancements.

Molecular self-assembly and encapsulation
We introduced a series of molecular capsules which self-assemble in the presence of appropriate guest species. These have been prepared in a variety of shapes and sizes, from those appropriate for encapsulation of methane to those capable of encapsulating transition states of cycloaddition reactions. The capsules reveal the behavior of molecules in very small spaces and channel their reactions along previously unknown pathways. The capsules and cavitands represent the leading edge of techniques in physical organic chemistry and provide new sequestering agents for actinide ions.

Sensors and antidotes for chemical warfare agents
We have devised a means by which a large number of nerve agents are rapidly detected and detoxified. The tactic involves combining a fluorescent dye with a reactive nucleophile such as an oxime. Reaction with a nerve agent is followed by a rapid intramolecular cyclization that creates a new fluorophore and destroys the agent. Current research revolves around the selective recognition of agents and their destruction in a catalytic manner.

Protein surface mimetics
We have synthesized small molecule scaffolds that present amino acid side chains that mimic arrangements found in protein alpha helices and beta strands. We have prepared some structures that act as agonists for neuropeptide receptors and others that target proteins involved in innate immunity. Current research involves the design of structures that will interfere with the inflammation cascade that leads to sepsis.


Ph.D. (Chemistry), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1970
B.S. (Chemistry), The University of Kansas,

Professional Experience

1991-1996 Camille Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1989-1991 Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1980-1989 Professor, University of Pittsburgh
1976-1979 Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh
1970-1976 Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

Awards & Professional Activities

Evans Award, Ohio State University, 2006
Univ. of Oregon Creativity Award in Chemistry, Dance and Music, 2007
Tau-Shue Chou Award, Academica Sinica, 2008
A. von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, Germany, 2009
Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2009
Israeli Chemical Society, Honorary Member, 2009
Honorary Doctorate, University of Bonn, 2010
Prelog Medal, ETH Zurich, 2012
Honorary Doctorate, University Jaume I, Castellon, Spain, 2015
Nichols Medal, ACS New York Section, 2011 

Recent Named Lectureships:
Tau-shue Chou Lecturer, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008
Frontiers in Chemistry, Case Western Reserve, 2009
Allergan Distinguished Lecturer, California State University, Long Beach, 2009
Frontiers of Chemistry Lectures, Texas A&M University, 2010
Kohler Lectures, UC Riverside 2010
International Year of Chemistry Lecture, University of Miami,
2011 George Buechi Lectures, MIT, 2012
Slayton Evans Lecturer, Univ. N. Carolina,
2012 William Pyle Philips Distinguished Visitor in Chemistry, Haverford College,
2012 Prelog Lecture, ETH, Switzerland 2012
Mahler Distinguished Lecturer, Univ. Texas Austin, 2013
Frontiers of Chemistry Lecturer, Wayne State Univ.,
2014 Frontiers in Organic Chemistry Lecturer, Univ. of Illinois, 2014
Institute for Advanced Studies Lecturer, HKUST, Hong Kong, 2015
Inaugural Roenigk Lecturer, Ohio Univ. 2016

Current Editorial Advisory Boards, Tetrahedron Publications:
Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters; Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry; Journal of the Chemical Society Perkin Transactions; Chemistry and Biology; Journal of Organic Chemistry; Current Opinion in Chemistry Biology; Progress in Physical Organic Chemistry; Journal of Supramolecular Chemistry.

Selected References

All Publications

Simone Mosca, Dariush Ajami, and Julius Rebek, Jr. Recognition and sequestration of ω-fatty acids by a cavitand receptor. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 11181-11186. doi/10.1073/pnas.1515233112.

Qixun Shi, Matthew P. Mower, Donna G. Blackmond and Julius Rebek, Jr. Water-soluble cavitands promote hydrolyses of long-chain diesters, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2016, 113, 9199-9203.

Simone Mosca, Yang Yu, Jesse V. Gavette and Julius Rebek, Jr. A deep cavitand templates lactam formation in water. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 14582-14585. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b10028.

Nai-Wei Wu and Julius Rebek, Jr. Cavitands as chaperones for monofunctionalizing and ring forming reactions in water J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016, 137, 7512-7515.

Qixun Shi, Daniele Masseroni and Julius Rebek, Jr. Macrocyclization of Folded Diamines in Cavitands J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016, 137, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.6b06950


Of Molecules and Methods

The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology

Nanoencapsulation: Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute Discover a New and Simple Way of Controlling Reactions

The Skaggs Institute Scientific Report