Christopher Cramer receives ACS Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award

Christopher J. Cramer has received a 2021 American Chemical Society (ACS) Arthur C. Cope Late Career Scholars Award, recognized for his excellence in organic chemistry. He has been a professor in the Department of Chemistry for 28 years and, since November 2018, has served as the University of Minnesota’s Vice President for Research.  

Research interests

Cramer is a theoretician/modeler who applies the principles of physical organic chemistry to a broad spectrum of problems. These contributions have ranged from the development and dissemination of new theoretical models, adopted by many researchers worldwide, to the specific application of modeling tools to answer chemical questions associated with organic structure and reactivity.

Some of Cramer’s research interests include modeling catalysis such as the exploitation of metal-organic frameworks to advance sustainable chemistry and chemical processes; molecular and material phenomena associated with solar energy devices; theoretical characterization of small-molecule activation at transition-metal centers; modeling remediation of environmental contaminants and chemical warfare agents; and development and application of condensed-phase quantum chemical models. 

Cramer is a senior principal investigator with the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Polymers as well as with the Nanoporous Materials Genome Center and the Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center, both of which are funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). He also served as director of the DOE Center for Charge Transfer and Charge Transport in Photoactivated Systems from 2012–2017. He is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and a past fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan and John Simon Guggenheim Foundations.

Some of Cramer’s seminal work encompasses tool development and dissemination, particularly his contributions to the SMx series of continuum solvation models. Until the early 1990s, almost all quantum chemical calculations were limited to gas-phase molecules; the influence of a surrounding medium was discussed only qualitatively. Recognizing the importance of condensed phase effects, Cramer and his colleague Regents Professor Donald Truhlar designed and refined a series of SMx solvation models to predict free energies of interaction between solutes and their surroundings (liquid solvents, membranes, soil particles, etc.) with excellent quantitative accuracies. In part because of this success, it is now a de facto requirement that modern computational work include the application of a solvation model. SMx models have been coded into many free and commercial software packages.

Cramer works closely with experimental collaborators, explaining key mechanistic details of reactions central to the remediation of contaminants and of C–H bond activation by inorganic and organometallic species. He has done ground-breaking work on single- and multi-center diradicals, which are organic molecules having two unpaired electrons. His extensive studies have focused on carcinogenicity (nitrenium ions), antitumor activity (aryne diradicals), organic ferromagnetism (non-Kekulé diradicals), and general organic reactivity (carbenes and nitrenes). From a theoretical standpoint, diradicals pose a fundamental problem because off-the-shelf computational protocols work best when frontier orbital gaps are large, which is not the norm for diradicals. His work has illuminated many aspects of diradical chemistry, leading to the design of new diradicals having tailored reactivities.

Sharing his expertise

Cramer shares his expertise with the broader scientific community, which includes publishing more than 500 articles, and editing four books and 11 books series. He is author of the textbook, “Essentials of Computational Chemistry: Theories and Models,” as well as a popular massive open online course, Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics. He is frequently lauded for being a “highly cited” author and has received the College of Science & Engineering’s (CSE) George W. Taylor Distinguished Research Award.

A dedicated educator, in his 28 years as a professor, Cramer has mentored 39 post-doctoral associates, 31 doctoral students, 7 masters students, 71 undergraduates, and 4 high school students. He has also hosted 28 visiting scientists. He is one of a handful of faculty to have received the University of Minnesota’s highest teaching award at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and is recognized as a Distinguished McKnight University Professor for his research excellence. For his service to the University and the College of Science & Engineering, he has been recognized with the George W. Taylor Distinguished Service Award.

Vice President for Research

As Vice President for Research, Cramer oversees key strategic and administrative aspects of the University’s billion-dollar research enterprise, a level of research activity that ranks it among the top ten public research universities in the nation. He has highlighted the key role that research experiences play in the education of students at all levels at the University of Minnesota and helped create new ways for University researchers to connect across disciplines and be more competitive for large, multidisciplinary grant opportunities. Most recently, he has helped lead the University’s research enterprise through Minnesota’s initial COVID-19 Stay-at-Home order to its “sunrise” status today, where several thousand researchers have safely returned to onsite work that cannot be performed from home.

Service to others

Before becoming the Vice President for Research, Cramer served as the College of Science & Engineering’s associate dean for Research and for Academic Affairs, and as chair of the Executive Committees of Minnesota’s University and Faculty Senates. He also served as editor-in-chief of Theoretical Chemistry Accounts for 15 years and associate editor of the Journal of Physical Organic Chemistry for 20 years. 

Cramer joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1992 after earning his Artium Baccalaurei, summa cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis and his doctorate from the University of Illinois. He then served four years as an officer in the United States Army, including combat duty in Operation Desert Storm.