HomeImpossibles: Your Stories of Scientific Advancement Isabelle Leibler: My Next Great Impossible

Isabelle Leibler: My Next Great Impossible

Isabelle Leibler

Isabelle Leibler is a joint Ph.D. student with Professors Abigail G. Doyle and Robert R. Knowles researching at Princeton University. She told us more about her work on photocatalytic C(sp3)-H functionalization, and how her athlete’s mindset helps her in the lab.

My research is focused on the development of photocatalytic C(sp3)-H functionalization methodologies, with a particular emphasis on developing these reactivity platforms to achieve nucleophilic C(sp3)-H fluorination. Fluorinated molecules play a large role in our everyday lives, forming everything from durable household materials to highly effective pharmaceuticals and oncological tracers.

“Nucleophilic fluorination holds great promise for modern science and medicine…”

Nucleophilic fluorination has remained a significant challenge in organic chemistry but holds great promise to facilitate access to fluorinated molecular scaffolds that are integral to the advancement of modern science and medicine. My greatest aspiration is that this chemistry can streamline the delivery of complex fluorinated molecules, such that useful materials and pharmaceuticals featuring this motif may be generated rapidly, effectively, and broadly.

I was very lucky to have worked on the C(sp3)-H functionalization project with Dr. Makeda Tekle-Smith, who continuously inspired me to think critically, solve problems with poise and learn how to work smarter when simply working harder wasn't always the answer. I continue to learn so many important lessons from her, all of which I take with me now as I mentor younger Ph.D. students.

“I want to reach a mindset where I welcome tough challenges…”

During my time as an athlete, I endeavored to embrace pressure, and I find myself actively developing this mindset each day I walk into the lab. As a scientist, I want to reach a mindset where I welcome tough challenges as exciting opportunities and actively pursue formidable projects without fear of failure. Ultimately, I think Billie Jean King said it best by telling us that "pressure is a privilege”.


Q: What kind of mindset do you need to achieve the Next Great Impossible?

A: I think the most important mindset is to welcome challenge, pressure and adversity, and achieving this mindset is a goal I would like to work towards in graduate school.