Ken-Tsung Wong, 33
National Taiwan University
Organic chemistry is like gardening: There’s a large body of factual knowledge to be acquired, but mastering that knowledge doesn’t make you great. There’s also that puzzling intangible thing known as a "green thumb"--some folks have it, some don’t. Ken-Tsung Wong has an "organic chemist’s green thumb," says Scott Denmark, who was one of Wong’s teachers during his graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Adds Denmark, "He has a highly developed instinct for how to make chemical reactions work, one unparalleled in my experience. It’s a talent that’s hard to teach or articulate in rational terms."
The blooms that Wong’s green thumb brings up could have an impact on several industries. As a postdoc, Wong identified new catalysts for reactions that, if applied, could enable the pharmaceutical industry to prepare therapeutic agents more efficiently. At National Taiwan University, Wong uses his green thumb in another fertile field: designing "molecular wires," which could be used in the nanocomputers of the future. His efforts have already led to compounds with promising photo- and electro-chemical properties.