Care is important to Song Lin. “You have to make sure that the things you publish are at least reproducible in your own laboratory and that the procedures are really strictly recorded,” he says. “Papers are only beneficial if we can trust the published data.”

Many of the processes developed in Lin’s laboratory involve electrochemical reactions. Traditionally, electrochemical reactions can be difficult to adopt or reproduce because they often use non-standardized reaction vessels. When people talk about synthetic electrochemistry, the first thing that usually comes to mind is sustainability: in oxidation-reduction reactions, you can replace chemical oxidizing or reducing agents with just one electrode. “It’s an important trait in electrochemistry, but I tend to think beyond sustainability.”

A picture showing Song Lin

Lin investigates how electricity can trigger reactions that are not necessarily possible with chemical oxidizing and reducing agents. “You have essentially an infinite redox range. You can put on as high or as low a potential as you like. We are really only limited by the stability of the solvent and supporting electrolyte. While with conventional chemical oxidizing and reducing agents their potentials are fixed. But what’s also cool about electrochemistry is that despite having such a wide redox window, you can still have finesse. You can choose by adjusting the potential to selectively oxidize or reduce a particular functional group. ‘

Last year, Lin’s team reported a way to produce silyl radicals by activating chlorosilanes at greatly reduced potentials and demonstrated its use in reactions to form silicon-carbon bonds.1 “I’m more on the fundamental side, I love discovering new reactivities, I don’t necessarily think about the practical side or whether someone will use it right away. If you continue to make fundamental discoveries and present people with an arsenal of reactions, they’re sure to figure out how to deal with them. ‘

Engaging in chemical reactions with electricity is not a new concept, emphasizes Lin. Michael Faraday and Hermann Kolbe did it in the middle of the 19th century. “I like the way we as chemists reinvent ourselves and our specialty on a regular basis.”

I love discovering new reactivities

Lin says he loves the engineering aspect of electrochemistry. “At first there were a lot of unknowns. What kind of ship should we use? What kind of electrodes are compatible with organic systems? And how are we going to separate the product? ‘More recently, these strangers have prompted Lin’s team, in collaboration with employees from Merck, to develop a high-throughput electrochemical reactor that systematically examines electrochemically relevant parameters.2 It has 24 wells with a reaction volume of 200–600 µl each and can be used to discover, optimize or expand the scope of the reaction by varying electrolytes, electrode materials and voltages as well as conventional reaction parameters such as temperature, solvent and catalyst. They designed the system to be compatible with high throughput techniques and workflows commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry. The hope is that the device will help improve reproducibility for electrochemical reactions and make electrochemistry accessible to a wider range of scientists.

Visible values

For the first year of his freelance career, Lin had his own laboratory hood. ‘My leadership style has definitely changed over time. I was much more practical. But now I’m trying to give my students more space to be creative and think about problems. Finding a balance can be difficult, but ultimately you want to maximize everyone’s potential. ‘

Making sure his research group has an inclusive environment is a priority for Lin. “As an immigrant from China, I understand the challenges immigrants can face in this country, but at the same time there are challenges that I have not experienced. I try to remind myself and my students that there are different sides to things that you may not understand because you haven’t experienced them yourself. ‘On the Lin Research Group website, a section promoting the group’s values ​​is just as visible as the section listing the publications. “As a laboratory made up of members from different backgrounds, we are proud to attribute our success to an open and inclusive laboratory culture,” it says. Below are statements from Lin and the group who deciphered Tomáš Hudlický’s notorious, now withdrawn people applied Chemistry Essay. “We want people to know that this is our philosophy.”

Lin’s numerous awards include several that recognize his contributions to research and education: he received a scholarship from the Alfred Sloan Foundation in 2019, a Cottrell Scholar Award in 2020, and just this month a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. He describes the psychological boost of receiving such awards: “I’m not the most self-confident person. I think I have what you call imposter syndrome. Whenever you are with the likes of Phil Baran, Dave MacMillan, and all these organic chemistry giants, you wonder if you will ever make as big an impact in the field as they do. But the recognition that comes with these awards makes you believe you can do it. In some ways, it’s even more important than the money. ‘

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