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Chemistry Professor Jason Green Tackling Laws of Chemistry Through John Templeton Foundation Grant

03/10/2020| Colleen Locke

John Templeton Foundation Asks Scientists to Consider Big Questions

Associate Professor of Chemistry Jason Green
Jason Green also is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Image By: Mica Green

“ Success for us would be to understand how universality might emerge in chemistry and have a first pass at cataloging the classes. ”

Associate Professor of Chemistry Jason Green is taking on the laws of chemistry through a two-year $234,800 grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The Templeton Foundation is interested in funding research and dialogue about what they call “big questions” in the natural sciences, human sciences, philosophy and theology, and public engagement. Green’s question relates to an idea best known in physics: universality.

“Universality is the idea that there are common laws for very different systems,” Green said. “Take a piece of paper that’s burning along one edge. The flame front gets rougher and rougher as the paper burns, and this roughness can be measured. Now take another piece of paper and dip its edge in water. As the water spreads, the wet-dry interface roughens over time. These processes are very different but it's well known that they both have the same physical laws. … The question that we’ve posed and are beginning to answer is whether this same universality exists within chemistry and the rates of chemical reactions.”

Chemistry has an incredibly diverse collection of chemical reactions, Green explained. To make sense of this diversity, chemical reactions are traditionally organized around types that include inorganic, organic, biological, polymer, atmospheric, and medicinal, etc. But, these classifications are not always clear-cut and they’re not quantitative.

To answer the question of whether there are common or “universal” laws shared by different chemistries, Green is developing theory and models, and running computer simulations. He and his research team of students and post-docs are also planning to demonstrate their work with open-science computational notebooks.

“In the laboratory, there is significant effort to synthesize new drugs and new materials. We’re just beginning to think about how this idea could be used to make new quantitative predictions – predictions that could be used to help design these syntheses,” Green said.

With this grant funding such a challenging problem, Green describes what he would define as success when the grant ends in August 2021.

“Success for us would be to understand how universality might emerge in chemistry and have a first pass at cataloging the classes within chemistry. Categorizing and classifying are often scientific steps that precede prediction and control,” Green said. “Once we’ve taken this first step, we can ask an even bigger question: Is there something unique about the universality, if there is such a universality, in the chemistry of living systems?”

About the John Templeton Foundation
Founded in 1987, the John Templeton Foundation supports research and dialogue on the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind. The foundation funds work on subjects ranging from black holes and evolution to creativity, forgiveness, and free will. It also encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, theologians, and the public at large. With over $2.8 billion in assets and annual grants of $115 million in 2018, the foundation ranks among the 25 largest grantmaking foundations in the United States. Headquartered outside Philadelphia, its philanthropic activities have extended to more than 190 countries around the world. Learn more at

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