(A portion of James Tour’s article)
Animadversions of a Synthetic Chemisthttp://inference-review.com/article/animadversions-of-a-synthetic-chemist

Why is everyone here lying?
— Fyodor Dostoevsky

LIFE REQUIRES carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. What is the chemistry behind their origin? Biologists seem to think that there are well-understood prebiotic molecular mechanisms for their synthesis. They have been grossly misinformed. And no wonder: few biologists have ever synthesized a complex molecule ab initio. If they need a molecule, they purchase molecular synthesis kits, which are, of course, designed by synthetic chemists, and which feature simplistic protocols.

Polysaccharides? Their origin?

The synthetic chemists do not have a pathway.

The biologists do not have a clue.

Making Molecules

CHEMISTS STUDY molecules.1 Synthetic chemists make them. What nature does is anyone’s guess. The molecules that we make are made to perform certain functions. The initial design is important. Sometimes molecular designs are computer-assisted, but more often than not, the initial steps are done on paper. A target must first be drawn or otherwise designated. This is no trivial task. In some cases, chemists have seen the target in a related system; in other cases, they guess the target’s properties on the basis of its molecular weight, its shape, its addends, and its functional capacities.

This is just the beginning.

Once a target is selected, retrosynthesis is next, whether on paper or on a computer screen. Placing the target at the top, the chemist draws an inverted tree (or graph), one step down at a time, into multiple branch points, until he reaches a level where starting materials are at hand.2

The decision tree is then pruned. Certain branches lead to dead ends. They are lopped off. Further refinement of various routes leads to a set of desired paths; these are the routes that can be attempted in the laboratory.

Why the retrosynthetic approach to complex molecules? It is because finding a direct path to a target is far too complicated. Dead ends are everywhere; dead products accumulate massively; and, between the dead ends and the dead products, precious starting materials tend to become exhausted.

There are no targets in evolution. Nature does not perform retrosynthetic analyses.

Given a target and a path to get there, the synthetic chemist must now try a number of chemical permutations. Each step may need to be optimized, and each step must be considered with respect to specific reaction site modifications and different reaction rates.

What is desired is often ever so slightly different in structure from what is not. If Product A is a mirror image of Product B, separation becomes a time-consuming and challenging task, one requiring complementary mirror-image structures. Many molecules in natural biological systems are homochiral. Their mirror images cannot do their work.

Few reactions ever afford a one hundred percent yield; few reactions are free of deleterious byproducts. Purification is essential. If byproducts are left in reaction, they result in complex mixtures that render further reactions impossible to execute correctly.

After purification, a number of different spectroscopic and spectrometric methods must be used to confirm the resulting molecular structures. Make the wrong molecular intermediate, the synthetic chemist quickly learns, and all subsequent steps are compromised.

Intermediate products are often unstable in air, sunlight or room light, or in water. Synthetic chemists work in seconds or minutes.

It is this laborious trench work that separates the men from the boys.

James Tour

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
James Mitchell Tour
Professor James Tour.jpg
Born 1959
New York City
Residence Houston, Texas
Nationality American
Fields Organic Chemistry
Materials Science
Institutions Rice University, 1999-present
University of South Carolina, 1988-1999
Alma mater Stanford University, Postdoctoral
University of Wisconsin, Postdoctoral
Purdue University, PhD
Syracuse University, BS
Thesis Metal-Promoted Cyclization and Transition-Metal-Promoted Carbonylative Cyclization Reactions
Doctoral advisor Ei-ichi Negishi
Known for Molecular electronics, nanotechnology, carbon materials
Spouse Shireen G. Tour

James M. Tour is a synthetic organic chemist, specializing in nanotechnology. Dr. Tour is the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering, and Professor of Computer Science at Rice University in HoustonTexasUnited States.


He is well known for his work in molecular electronics and molecular switching molecules. He has also been involved in other work, such as the creation of a nanocar and NanoKids, an interactive learning DVD to teach children fundamentals of chemistry and physics, SciRave, Dance Dance revolution and Guitar Hero packages to teach science concepts to middle-school students and SciRave-STEM for elementary school children, and much work on carbon nanotubes and graphene.[1][2][3][4] Dr. Tour’s work on carbon materials chemistry is broad and encompasses fullerene purification,[5][6] composites,[7][8] conductive inks for radio frequencies identification tags,[9][10] carbon nanoreporters for identifying oil downhole,[11][12]graphene synthesis from cookies and insects,[13] graphitic electronic devices,[14][15] carbon particle drug delivery for treatment of traumatic brain injury,[16][17] the merging of 2D graphene with 1D nanotubes to make a conjoined hybrid material,[18] a new graphene-nanotube 2D material called rebar graphene,[19] graphene quantum dots from coal,[20] gas barrier composites,[21] graphene nanoribbon deicing films,[22] supercapacitors and battery device structures,[23][24] and water splitting to H2 and O2 using metal chalcogenides.[25] His work with the synthesis of graphene oxide,[26] its mechanism of formation,[27] and its use in capturing radionuclides from water is extensive.[28] Dr. Tour has developed oxide based electronic memories that can also be transparent and built onto flexible substrates.[29] More recently, he has been using porous metal structures to make renewable energy devices including batteries and supercapacitors, as well as electronic memories.[30] Tour is also well known for his work on nanocars, single-molecule vehicles with four independently rotating wheels, axles, and light-activated motors.[31] His early independent career focused upon the synthesis of conjugated polymers and precise oligomers.[32] Dr. Tour was also a founder of the Molecular Electronics Corporation. He holds joint appointments in the departments of chemistry, computer science, and materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University. Dr. Tour received degrees from Syracuse University (BS, 1981), Purdue University (PhD, 1986) and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1986–1987) and Stanford University (1987–1988).[33]

Tour holds more than 60 United States patents plus many non-US patents.[34] He has more than 500 research publications.

In the Scientific American article “Better Killing Through Chemistry”,[35] which appeared a few months after the September 11 attacks, Tour is credited for highlighting the issue of the ease of obtaining chemical weapon precursors in the United States.

In 2001, Tour signed the Discovery Institute‘s “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism“, a controversial petition which the intelligent design movementuses to promote intelligent design by attempting to cast doubt on evolution.[36][37] To those who “are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001” he responded “I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.”[38]

He had also said that he felt the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and he found it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes.[36] On his website, he writes that “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact” and “there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”[38]

In Lee Strobel‘s book “The Case For Faith” – the following commentary is attributed to Tour: “I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”[39]


Tour was named among “The 50 most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by TheBestSchools.org in 2014.[40] Tour was named “Scientist of the Year” by R&D Magazine in 2013.[41] Tour won the ACS Nano Lectureship Award from the American Chemical Society in 2012. Tour was ranked one of the top 10 chemists in the world over the past decade by Thomson Reuters in 2009. That year, he was also made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Other notable awards won by Tour include the 2008 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, the NASA Space Act Award in 2008 for his development of carbon nanotube reinforced elastomers, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for his achievements in organic chemistry in 2007, the Small Times magazine’s Innovator of the Year Award in 2006, the Southern Chemist of the Year Award from ACS in 2005, the Honda Innovation Award for Nanocars in 2005, the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1990, and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award in 1989. In 2005, Tour’s journal article “Directional Control in Thermally Driven Single-Molecule Nanocars” was ranked the Most Accessed Journal Article by the American Chemical Society.[42] Tour has twice won the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching at Rice University in 2007 and 2012.

A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism[edit]

In February 2006, the New York Times reported[36] that Dr. Tour was one of a small number of nationally prominent researchers among five hundred scientists and engineers whose names appear on Discovery Institute‘s controversial petition, “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism“, which states “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”[43] The two-sentence statement has been widely used by its sponsor, the Discovery Institute, and some of their supporters in a national campaign to discredit evolution and to promote the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.[36][44][45][46]

The New York Times article described Tour as saying that the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and he found it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes. Despite this, he said he remained open-minded about evolution. He was quoted as saying “I respect that work” and being open to the possibility that future research will complete the explanations.[36]


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