Paton Research Group

About the lab

Featured projects (2)

New Molecular Descriptors and Graph Networks for Property Prediction
computational asymmetric catalysis

Featured research (7)

Pyridine halogenation reactions are crucial for obtaining the vast array of derivatives required for drug and agrochemical development. However, despite more than a century of synthetic endeavors, halogenation processes that selectively functionalize the carbon–hydrogen bond in the 3-position of a broad range of pyridine precursors remain largely elusive. We report a reaction sequence of pyridyl ring opening, halogenation, and ring closing whereby the acyclic Zincke imine intermediates undergo highly regioselective halogenation reactions under mild conditions. Experimental and computational mechanistic studies indicate that the nature of the halogen electrophile can modify the selectivity-determining step. Using this method, we produced a diverse set of 3-halopyridines and demonstrated late-stage halogenation of complex pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.
The advent of total-body Positron Emission Tomography (PET) has vastly broadened the range of research and clinical applications of this powerful molecular imaging technology1. Such possibilities have accelerated progress in 18F-radiochemistry with numerous methods available to 18F-label (hetero)arenes and alkanes2. However, access to 18F-difluoromethylated molecules in high molar activity (Am) is largely an unsolved problem, despite the indispensability of the difluoromethyl group for pharmaceutical drug discovery3. We report herein a general solution by introducing carbene chemistry to the field of nuclear imaging with a [18F]difluorocarbene reagent capable of a myriad of 18F-difluoromethylation processes. In contrast to the tens of known difluorocarbene reagents, this 18F-reagent is carefully designed for facile accessibility, high molar activity and versatility. The issue of Am is solved using an assay examining the likelihood of isotopic dilution upon variation of the electronics of the difluorocarbene precursor. Versatility is demonstrated with multiple [18F]difluorocarbene based reactions including O–H, S–H and N–H insertions, and cross-couplings that harness the reactivity of ubiquitous functional groups such as (thio)phenols, N-heteroarenes, and aryl boronic acids that are easy to install. Impact is illustrated with the labelling of highly complex and functionalised biologically relevant molecules and radiotracers.
Asymmetric catalytic azidation has increased in importance to access enantioenriched nitrogen containing molecules, but methods that employ inexpensive sodium azide remain scarce. This encouraged us to undertake a detailed study on the application of hydrogen bonding phase-transfer catalysis (HB-PTC) to enantioselective azidation with sodium azide. So far, this phase-transfer manifold has been applied exclusively to insoluble metal alkali fluorides for carbon-fluorine bond formation. Herein, we disclose the asymmetric ring opening of meso aziridinium electrophiles derived from β-chloroamines with sodium azide in the presence of a chiral bisurea catalyst. The structure of novel hydrogen bonded azide complexes was analyzed computationally, in the solid state by X-ray diffraction, and in solution phase by 1H and 14N/15N NMR spectroscopy. With N-isopropylated BINAM-derived bisurea, end-on binding of azide in a tripodal fashion to all three NH bonds is energetically favorable, an arrangement reminiscent of the corresponding dynamically more rigid trifurcated hydrogen-bonded fluoride complex. Computational analysis informs that the most stable transition state leading to the major enantiomer displays attack from the hydrogen-bonded end of the azide anion. All three H-bonds are retained in the transition state; however, as seen in asymmetric HB-PTC fluorination, the H-bond between the nucleophile and the monodentate urea lengthens most noticeably along the reaction coordinate. Kinetic studies corroborate with the turnover rate limiting event resulting in a chiral ion pair containing an aziridinium cation and a catalyst-bound azide anion, along with catalyst inhibition incurred by accumulation of NaCl. This study demonstrates that HB-PTC can serve as an activation mode for inorganic salts other than metal alkali fluorides for applications in asymmetric synthesis.
Mathematical relationships which relate chemical structure with selectivity have provided quantitative insights underlying catalyst design and informing mechanistic studies. Flexible compounds, however, can adopt several distinct geometries and so can be challenging to describe using a single structure-based descriptor. How best to quantify the structural characteristics of an ensemble of structure poses both practical and technical difficulties. In this work we introduce an automated computational workflow which can be used to obtain multidimensional Sterimol parameters for a conformational ensemble of a given substituent from a single command. The Boltzmann-weighted Sterimol parameters obtained from this approach are shown to be useful in multivariate models of enantioselectivity, while the range of values from conformers within 3 kcal/mol of the most stable structure provides a visual way to capture a possible source of uncertainty arising in the resulting models. Implementing our approach requires no programming expertise and can be executed from within a graphical user interface using open-source programs.
Heterocycles meet and marry on phosphorus Metals such as palladium are routinely used to link together carbon rings in pharmaceutical synthesis. However, the presence of nitrogen in both rings can trip up this process. Hilton et al. report a versatile alternative process in which phosphorus takes the place of the metal. The phosphorus binds successively to both rings at the sites opposite the nitrogen, and treatment with acidic ethanol then pushes them off, bound to each other. Theory implicates a five-coordinate phosphorus intermediate that kinetically favors coupling of the two nitrogen-bearing rings over reactions of the other all-carbon substituents. Science , this issue p. 799

Lab head

Robert Paton
  • Department of Chemistry
About Robert Paton
  • Dr. Robert Paton is a Full Professor of Chemistry at Colorado State University. Research in the Paton group is focussed on the development and application of computational tools to accelerate chemical discovery. Quantum chemistry, open source software and statistical modeling tools are all used to solve challenges in organic chemistry, often through extensive collaboration with experimentalists

Members (8)

Yingzi Li
  • Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences
Liliana Gallegos
  • Colorado State University
Heidi Klem
  • Colorado State University
Santeri Aikonen
  • Colorado State University
Louis de Lescure
  • Colorado State University
Guilian Luchini
  • Colorado State University
Ricardo Pena
  • Lawrence University
Mihai V. Popescu
Mihai V. Popescu
  • Not confirmed yet

Alumni (13)

Fernanda Duarte
  • University of Oxford
Qian Peng
  • Nankai University
Juan V. Alegre-Requena
  • Spanish National Research Council
Xinglong Zhang
  • University of Cambridge