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Research Output Prize 2021-22


Dr Zhongxing HUANG Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

To connect basic concepts and molecules taught in undergraduate organic chemistry to cutting-edge asymmetric synthesis is a remarkable experience.


Dr Pengwei XU, Former Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Chemistry

Breaking the symmetry of molecules can create abundant opportunities to access complexity and functionality.

Dr Zhongxing HUANG Assistant Professor, Department of ChemistryDr Pengwei XU Former Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Chemistry

Assistant Professor Dr Zhongxing HUANG (on the left) and Former Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Pengwei XU from the Department of Chemistry

In 2019, when joining The University of Hong Kong as an Assistant Professor, Dr HUANG and coworkers initiated a research programme to investigate the potential of active methylene compounds, a category of molecules widely available and frequently taught in undergraduate courses, in asymmetric catalysis. The team has since developed a signature family of metal catalysts and chiral ligands that can enable the asymmetric transformation of malonic esters, malonic acids, and acetoacetates.

For the first time, the winning research realised a reductive desymmetrisation of malonic esters via chemical catalysis, thus breaking the monopoly of enzyme catalysts in these reactions for more than three decades. Over the past three years, the research lab has built up a ligand library of more than 150 structures, utilising them in the desymmetrisation process to provide new and expeditious synthetic routes to over 20 bioactive molecules, including drugs, agrochemicals, and natural metabolites.

Details of the Journal paper:

‘Catalytic reductive desymmetrisation of malonic esters’, Nature Chemistry, 2021, Vol. 13, pp. 634-642