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Regents' Professor inspires generations of women chemists

March 02, 2011

This article is part of a series that looks at ASU's 2010 Regents' Professors and President's Professors.

Ana Moore is one of the steady stream of brilliant Argentineans who, fortunately for the United States, chose to enrich the American academic system. Even while an undergraduate at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, her unusual talents were recognized with a teaching assistantship award.

A little before the military coup of 1966, she left Argentina for research at the exciting new organic chemistry institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she obtained a M.Sc. degree and so began a long, productive and distinguished research and teaching career in organic synthetic chemistry.

Moore’s extraordinary contributions to science stem from her genius for synthetic chemistry. She exhibits an uncanny ability to design intricate sequences of pathways that produce some of the most complex, but exquisitely functional, organic molecules. Much of her research career has been devoted to designing and synthesizing molecules that possess the essential features of naturally occurring photosynthetic molecules. Her expertise has provided one of the essential components of ASU's world-class program on artificial photosynthesis.

“Ana has an understanding of organic chemistry that is spooky to a physicist," says Stuart Lindsay, Moore's collaborator and fellow Regents’ Professor. "It seems that she can solve Schrodinger’s equation for the many electron problem in a large organic molecule in her head. She has been the driving force in the detailed molecular design and synthesis that has enabled the vision of artificial photosynthesis of the Moores/Gust team over the years.”

Moore is passionate about all aspects of her life, whether it be teaching, research or family – including her beloved greyhound dogs Chimango (the boy) and Sassi (the old lady). She has been an inspiration to generations of women chemists and a role model, especially for Latino students.

Her students leave the issue in no doubt.

“Ana Moore is a great scientist and adviser," says said Dalvin Mendez, graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "She is very interested in our progress as scientists and individuals, always there mentoring our research and encouraging us. She likes to share a smile, and her happiness is contagious.”

Moore has been at the forefront in her support of female and Hispanic students and faculty at ASU. She has been a co-PI on the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program grant. This award is aimed at increasing the quality and number of students successfully completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) baccalaureate degree programs and, accordingly, the number of students interested in, and academically qualified for, graduate study.

“Well, Ana is a great adviser," says Jesse Bergkamp, chemistry and biochemistry graduate student. "She is always excited to talk about research and she loves to hear good results from the lab."

Early in their ASU careers, professors Ana Moore, Tom Moore and Devens Gust, of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, pooled their collective expertise to discover and examine the most essential features of how photosynthetic molecules work, focusing on how they absorb light and how the resultant energy is transiently stored. Based upon their insights, they set upon the objective of simplifying and redesigning molecules that maintained these important features and functionalities. 

In a very real sense, they launched the field of artificial photosynthesis. Through a series of discoveries and creative exercises, they learned to design, build and modify molecules that resisted rapid short-circuiting. This allowed time for the energy of excited molecules to be redirected into more useful forms. In effect, they were replicating what nature had been doing in plants for eons, but with simpler, artificial molecules. This set the stage for using these molecules for harvesting solar energy. Their foresight and timing could not have been better considering the urgent issues now challenging our society.

Jenny Green
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry