Department of Chemistry
A headshot

Karen Wooley
Distinguished Professor
Presidential Impact Fellow
W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
Director, TAMU Laboratory for Synthetic-Biologic Interactions
TIPS ETF Research Superiority Researcher

Other Affiliations
Chemical Engineering
Materials Science & Engineering

Department of Chemistry
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-3255

P: 979-845-4077
F: 979-862-1137
Researcher ID

Current Activities

Our research activities combine organic syntheses, polymerization strategies and polymer modification reactions in creative ways to afford unique macromolecular structures, which have been designed as functional nanostructures, polymer systems having unique macromolecular architectures, and/or degradable polymers. The emphasis is upon the incorporation of functions and functionalities into selective regions of polymer frameworks. In some cases, the function is added at the small molecule, monomer, stage, prior to polymerization, whereas, in other cases, chemical modifications are performed upon polymers or at the nanostructure level; each requires a strategic balance of chemical reactivity and the ultimate composition and structure.

Fundamental and applied studies are leading toward the incorporation of various functions into polymer materials, including biological activity, imaging capabilities, drug or gene delivery performance, toxin sequestration, photo- or electroactivity, triggered destruction, chemical reactivity, anti-biofouling characteristics, among others. Covalent and non-covalent interactions are employed in the development of new synthetic methodologies for the construction of the materials. Rigorous physicochemical characterization and in vitro and in vivo biological evaluations are performed. Therefore, students gain broad experience and achieve expertise across disciplines, with a foundation based upon organic chemistry, and extensions into analytical, physical and biological chemistries and engineering. Our primary, overarching aim that is involved in all projects within our research team is to develop synthetic strategies that harness the rich compositional, regiochemical and stereochemical complexity of natural products for the construction of hydrolytically-degradable polymers. Our materials are designed to have impact toward sustainability, reduction of reliance on petrochemicals, and to lead to the production of biologically-beneficial and environmentally-benign natural products upon degradation. While most of our research is of a fundamental nature, the outputs from the materials developed have translational potential, which are also being pursued to impact the global issue of plastic pollution and address challenges resulting from climate change, among other issues. Research activities begin with the development of novel synthetic strategies, and proceed through to fundamental study of physicochemical and mechanical properties and investigation of functional performance.

Educational Background

B.S., 1988, Oregon State University

Ph.D., 1993, Cornell University

Awards & Recognition

  • Outstanding Career Award, College of Arts and Sciences, Texas A&M University, 2023
  • Eminent Scholar Award, Aggie Women Network, Texas A&M University, 2021
  • SEC Professor of the Year, Southeastern Conference on behalf of Texas A&M University, 2021
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences (NAS), 2020 - present
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2020 - present
  • Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), 2020 - present
  • Fellow, National Academy of Inventors (NAI), 2019 - present
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AMACAD), 2015-present
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, 2014-present
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Prize, 2014
  • American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry, 2014
  • Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor, 2011-present
  • American Chemical Society, Polymer Chemistry Division, Herman F. Mark Scholar Award, 2009
  • Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in Organic Chemistry, 2002

Selected Publications

  • Tran, D. K.; Braaksma, A. N.; Andras, A. M.; Boopathi, S. K.; Darensbourg, D. J.; Wooley, K. L. “Structural metamorphoses of D-xylose oxetane- and carbonyl sulfide-based polymers in-situ during ring-opening copolymerizations”, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2023, 145, 18560-18567, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c05529. PMCID: PMC10863053
  • Shen, Y.; Leng, M.; Yang, Y.; Boopathi, S. K.; Sun, G.; Wooley, K. L. “Elucidation of substantial differences in ring-opening polymerization outcomes from subtle variation of glucose carbonate-based monomer substitution patterns and substituent types”, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2023, 145(28), 15405-15413, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c03339. PMCID: PMC10863030.
  • Pang, C.; Wang, H.; Zhang, F.; Patel, A. K.; Lee, H. P.; Wooley, K. L. “Glucose-derived superabsorbent hydrogel materials based on mechanically-interlocked slide-ring and triblock copolymer topologies”, J. Polym. Sci., 2023, 61, 937-950, DOI: 10.1002/pol.20220639.
  • Su, L.; Dalby, K. S.; Luehmann, H.; Elkassih, S. A.; Cho, S.; He, X.; Detering, L.; Lin, Y.-N.; Kang, N.; Moore, D. A.; Laforest, R.; Sun, G.; Liu, Y.; Wooley, K. L. “Ultrasmall, elementary and highly translational nanoparticle X-ray contrast media from amphiphilic iodinated statistical copolymers”, Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B, 2023, 13(4), 1660-1670, DOI: 10.1016/j.apsb.2022.09.009. PMCID: PMC10149980.
  • Kang, N.; Cho, S.; Leonhardt, E. E.; Liu, C.; Verkhoturov, S. V.; Woodward, W. H.; Eller, M. J.; Yuan, T.; Fitzgibbons, T. C.; Borguet, Y.; Jahnke, A. A.; Sokolov, A. N.; McIntire, T.; Reinhardt, C.; Fang, L.; Schweikert, E. A.; Spencer, L. P.; Sun, G.; Trefonas, P.; Wooley, K. L. “Topological Design of Highly Anisotropic Aligned Hole Transporting Molecular Bottlebrushes for Solution-processed OLEDs”, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2022, 144(18), 8084-8095, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.2c00420. PMID: 35471843