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Pfizer scientist donates $5,000 'green chemistry' award to his former professor

Jamie Tuttle '99, left, and professor Timo Ovaska.
Jamie Tuttle '99, left, and professor Timo Ovaska.

When scientist Jamie Tuttle '99 and two colleagues won an award from Pfizer Inc. for making strides in "green chemistry," he had an idea about who should get the $5,000 monetary portion of the award - and his friends readily agreed.

They chose Timo Ovaska, the Hans and Ella McCollum '21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry. Ovaska plans to use the award to fund undergraduate student stipends for research in his lab.

The Green Chemistry Award recognizes Pfizer employees who make pharmaceutical production more environmentally friendly. Tuttle and his colleagues, who work at a Pfizer lab in Groton, Conn., figured out a more efficient, greener and less expensive way to produce a compound they needed for one of the drugs they are making.

They had the privilege of deciding the recipient of the monetary portion of the award, typically given to an educational institution.

"I have an allegiance to Connecticut College, but also we wanted to recognize a smaller program where the money would have a greater impact in terms of funding," Tuttle said when asked why he chose Ovaska.

He added that Ovaska is focused on creating complex molecular architecture using simple building blocks in an atom-economical fashion - a process that falls under the umbrella of green chemistry.

"Additionally, Connecticut College is local and also pretty active with Pfizer in terms of students and academic work," Tuttle said.

Tuttle first worked with Ovaska in the organic chemistry lab his junior year of college, taking classes and completing outside research during the semester and over the summer.

"Timo is an incredible teacher. He gets you to work on your feet and think on your own. His mentoring - both hands-on and hands-off - has helped me be creative and come up with my own ideas throughout my career path," Tuttle said.

After graduation, Tuttle maintained a close relationship with Ovaska through frequent e-mails, phone calls and visits to campus. Tuttle took a research assistant position at MIT in biochemistry before continuing on to work briefly with Pfizer, and ultimately attending graduate school at the California Institute of Technology. After three years, his research under the direction of David MacMillan was moved to Princeton, where Tuttle finished his PhD and was quickly re-hired by Pfizer.

Today, Tuttle is a principal scientist in a small lab working on diseases of the central nervous system like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's.

"My role is to design and execute the synthesis of molecules that we believe have bioactivity that can modulate a disease target. I am basically trying to develop a cure. It's a very challenging job and very exciting," Tuttle said.

Since graduation, Tuttle has also remained very involved in the College. He taught a general chemistry lab at night and contributed to Ovaska's Medicinal Chemistry 300-level course, which is taught by adjunct members of the faculty employed at Pfizer.

"Jamie has done extremely well and we are all very proud of him," said Ovaska.

-- Meredith Boyle '13

April 13, 2011