Skip to main content

James E. "Ned" Jackson

Michelle Mazei-RobisonProfessor, Chemistry

Chemistry Building
578 S. Shaw Lane Rm. 534
517-355-9715 ext. 141

Research Interests:
Probing mechanisms and theory, from molecular interactions to process design, Jackson group projects and collaborations explore entities and processes ranging from eminently practical to fundamental: 

(a) Electrocatalytic “energy upgrading”: A major focus is “Green” catalysts and pathways from renewables to useful “petro-” chemicals. Considering the environmental costs and irreplaceable nature of fossil-based hydrocarbons, there is a need to shift hydrocarbon production in the US, and ultimately worldwide, to a renewable source: biomass. To become useful fuels and chemicals, the carbohydrate and lignin fractions of this photosynthetically captured carbon resource need to be upgraded (hydrodeoxygenated) with energy from fossil-free sources: solar cells, wind turbines, or nuclear power plants, all of which produce electricity. Thus, a priority goal is to open the door to electrocatalytic processes that link electrical energy to organic reduction reactions of bio-based feedstocks (Li, Lam, Garedew, Hao, Appiagyei, Klinger, Howell). Much of this work has grown out of long term collaborations with chemical engineers Dennis Miller and Chris Saffron, and analytical chemist Greg Swain at MSU.

(b) Electrocatalytic isotope exchange and alkylations: Replacement of hydrogen with its heavy isotope deuterium in drug molecules can help trace their fates and modify their pharmacokinetics, enabling optimization and simplification of dosing regimens. Likewise, methods to shorten organic syntheses and minimize their waste streams by using alcohols as simple alkylating agents represent “greening” paths for pharmaceutical manufacture. Electroactivated catalysts recently developed in our labs now enable such improved processes under mild conditions in water, the least expensive solvent (Dalavoy, Bhatia). Related reductive chemistry based on highly activated alkali metals likewise offers new synthetic pathways (Nandi, Jalloh).

(c) Hydrogen bonds in odd places: The group has uncovered novel modes of hydrogen bonding, such as hydridic-to-protonic associations which have implications for covalent crystal design. Organocatalysis and pharmaceutical ligand binding may be designed more rationally via recent insights into the electronic relationships of aromaticity and hydrogen bonding (Kakeshpour). Related ligand designs have led to design of materials for detoxification of mercury-contaminated waters and collaborative studies with Professor J. L. Dye to isolate uniquely reactive salts of alkali metal anions (!) and even unattached electrons (!) (Manes, Redko).

(d) Mechanistic studies: The Borhan group has recently opened up the field of stereocontrolled organocatalytic halofunctionalization of alkenes, a diverse and adaptable reaction category of major value for synthesis of chiral pharmaceuticals. Kinetics, isotope labeling, and stereochemical studies are now underway to map out the detailed atomic motions involves in these and other molecular transformations, informed by high level quantum chemical simulations to probe energetics and dynamics. (Spahlinger, Kakeshpour, Hao).

Educational Background:
Harvard University, A.B., 1977, Chemistry 
Princeton University, Ph.D., 1986, Chemistry
Ohio State University, Postdoctoral Fellow, 1986-88  

Selected Professional Activities:

  • Chair (2008-2015), vice-chair (2016-present), Meridian Township Environmental Commission 
  • Member, National Academy of Inventors (Inducted 2015)
  • Member, MI Green Chemistry Roundtable (2014-present)
  • MI “GreenUp” Conferences 2014 (Local host), 2015 (Steering Committee member)
  • Pacifichem 2015, Symposium #334, "Green and Sustainable Chemistry Education for Tomorrow's Citizens of the World” (Co-Organizer)
  • Freshman Seminar “Green Chemistry” (Fall 2008-present)
    MSU High School Honors Science Program host lab (ca. 25 years)
  • Visiting Professor (sabbatical), Organic Chemistry Institute, University of Zürich, Switzerland (2005-6)
  • 2004 NSF Workshop “Heterogeneous Catalysis of Bio-Based Feedstocks”, Washington, DC (Co-Organizer)
  • Director, Center for Fundamental Materials Research, Michigan State University (2002-2004)

Departmental Web Pages:

Laboratory Trainees:

  • Pengchao Hao
  • Tayeb Kakeshpour, predoctoral
  • Souful Bhatia, predoctoral
  • Mahlet Garedew, predoctoral
  • Fatmata Jalloh, predoctoral
  • GracieLou Klinger, predoctoral
  • Benjamin Appiagyei, predoctoral
  • Andrew Henika, predoctoral
  • Dr. Misha Redko, postdoctoral