Hans and Ella McCollum '21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry
Joined Connecticut College: 1990
M.S., University of Turku; Ph.D., University of Connecticut
Professor Ovaska centers his research on organic synthesis, a process that allows chemists to prepare complex materials in a rational fashion from simple precursors.
His research focuses on two main areas: 1) the development of novel methods and strategies for the preparation of complex polycyclic ring systems, and 2) application of these methods for the synthesis of biologically important natural products. Recently, he has been particularly interested in natural products that contain seven-membered (cycloheptane) rings. Compounds that incorporate seven-membered rings are widespread in nature and frequently of considerable medicinal interest as potential anti-tumor, anti-HIV, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents.
Professor Ovaska has obtained external funding for this work from the Petroleum Research Fund (type G and AC), Research Corporation, the National Institutes of Health and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation (scholar-fellow program). Additional funding to provide summer/winter break stipends for undergraduate students has been obtained from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and corporate sponsors such as Pfizer, Inc., Boehringer-Ingelheim and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Ovaska and his colleague Bruce Branchini also obtained NSF funding to purchase a Varian 500 MHz NMR spectrometer, which is being used extensively for his research as well as teaching activities.
Professor Ovaska teaches Organic Chemistry and Advanced Organic Chemistry. His other course, Medicinal Chemistry, offered with adjunct faculty at Pfizer Central Research, provides insight into the many different aspects of medicinal chemistry and cutting-edge research within the pharmaceutical industry.
In 2011, Pfizer scientist and '99 alumnus Jamie Tuttle and his colleague won a "Green Chemistry Award," and chose to donate the monetary portion of the award to Ovaska, who plans to use it to fund undergraduate student stipends for research in his lab.
Ovaska served on the College's Graduate Studies Committee and the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee. which guides, advises, and evaluates students who are preparing for careers in the health professions. The Committee also provides health professions schools with a Connecticut College Pre-Health Committee letter of recommendation.
Ovaska is the recipient of the Connecticut College 2010 Nancy Batson Nisbet Rash Faculty Research Award, presented annually to a faculty member selected on the basis of outstanding scholarly or artistic accomplishments. He delivered a talk about student-faculty research in organic chemistry at the 2011 Honors & Awards Assembly.
Among his other professional activities Ovaska has reviewed several manuscripts for the following journals: Organic Letters, Journal of Organic Chemistry, Chemistry - An European Journal, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters.
His professional affiliations include the American Chemical Society and Phi Lambda Upsilon Honor Society, UCONN chapter, since 1987.
View Ovaska's research group website for a complete listing of publications and presentations, including student works.
Visit the chemistry department site.
"Organic chemistry is at the heart of natural science and it is closely related to such fields as biology, biochemistry, physiology and polymer science. One of my goals in teaching this fascinating subject is to show the students that organic molecules are found literally all around us - in pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, dyes and pigments, perfumes, plastics, and adhesives, just to name a few examples."