Li Deng

Li DengOrrie Friedman Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)


Harvard University, Postdoc
Harvard University, PhD
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, Master's
Tsing Hua University, Beijing, P. R. China, BS


To fulfill the promises and to meet the challenges of chemistry in the 21st century, chemists must develop new methods to manipulate and create substances of increasing complexity and diversity with dramatically enhanced efficiency and practicality. Our program focuses on the invention and development of new catalytic and selective reactions because of their fundamental importance to molecular science. Our approach involves the discovery and design of accessible catalysts for highly enantioselective asymmetric organic reactions of broad synthetic importance, the elucidation of the reaction mechanism and molecular recognition events underlying the catalytic activity and selectivity, and the applications in the synthesis of chiral compounds of varying complexity.

Our studies following the approach outlined above have led us to the discovery of powerful and practical chiral organic catalysts promoting highly enantioselective reactions by general base catalysis. We also established that the general base catalysis could be coupled with electrophile-activating catalysis such general acid catalysis and iminium catalysis to form powerful bifunctional catalysis for asymmetric reaction development. These concepts have been successfully applied to the development of a wide range of novel and highly efficient asymmetric reactions of general scopes. Many of these reactions have already found wide applications in target- and diversity-oriented synthesis. Our reactions have also been developed into viable tools for industrial manufacturing of chiral compounds.

Selected Publications

Zhou X.; Wu Y.; Deng L. "Cinchonium Betaines as Efficient Catalysts for Asymmetric Proton Transfer Catalysis: The Development of a Practical Enantioselective Isomerization of Trifluoromethyl Imines." J Am Chem Soc. 21;138:12297-302 (2016).

Wu, Y.; Deng, L. "Quinine", Handbook of Reagents for Organic Synthesis: Reagents for Organocatalysis. Ed. Rovis, T. John Wiley & Sons, Sep 1, 2016, 533-547 (2016).

Zheng Y.; Deng L. Catalytic Asymmetric Direct Aldol Reaction of α-Alkyl Azlactones and Aliphatic Aldehydes." Chem Sci. 6:6510-6514 (2015).

Wu, Y.; Hu, L.; Li, Z.; et al.. "Catalytic asymmetric umpolung reactions of imines." Nature (2015) : 445-50. (2015)