Professor Walba's basic bio
Currently Professor in the CU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Walba also holds an appointment in the CU Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and serves as the Associate Director of the Liquid Crystal Materials Research Center.
After receiving a B. S. degree in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley (1971), he studied at the California Institute of Technology under the direction of Robert E. Ireland, receiving his Ph.D. on the total synthesis of natural products in 1975. After two years of postdoctoral research on host-guest chemistry with Donald J. Cram at UCLA, Walba started his academic career as Assistant Professor of Chemistry at CU Boulder in 1977, where he has worked since.
Walba's teaching and research programs emphasize organic chemistry, and in particular stereochemistry. For his work in teaching and research, he has been made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999), a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar (1984-1986), and a Fellow of the A.P. Sloan Foundation (1982-1984). In addition, Walba was a co-founder and Vice President for Chemical Research (1984-1994), and member of the Board of Directors (1994-2001), of Displaytech, Inc.
Professor Walba’s research is characterized by unusual breadth and interdisciplinary flavor. During the past 32 years, research projects have ranged from studies of metal-oxo promoted diene oxidative cyclization for synthesis of stereochemically complex naturally occurring polyethers, to synthesis and cutting “in half” of a molecular Möbius strip.
The rather remarkable oxidation at right was reported in the context of work on the total synthesis of natural polyethers. The THF-diol product, with four stereogenic centers, is produced in enantiomerically pure form.
The Möbius strip synthesis proved interesting to a wide range of chemists and mathematicians (the graphic at left appeared in a 1982 article in C&EN). This work led to a series of papers at the interface of low-dimensional topology, graph theory, and chemistry, in a research area termed topological stereochemistry.
Not only did the mathematical discipline of topology suggest interesting synthetic targets, but the chemistry actually stimulated work on the low dimensional topology of graphs, a previously under-represented mathematical field.