The Williams Lab



  • Dr. Florence Williams

    Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Iowa

    Chemistry Building, W285

    (319) 384-1319 / florence-williams[at]uiowa.edu

    • B.S. New York University (2006)
    • Ph. D. University of California - Irvine (2011)
    • PDF Princeton University (2012-2015)
    • Assistant Professor, University of Alberta (2016-2019)

    Florence has a diverse background of scientific experience, beginning with her work with Prof. Marc Walters at New York University on gadolinium based MRI contrast agents, as well as iron redox catalysts. Following her transition to graduate school at University of California, Irvine, Florence worked with Prof. Elizabeth Jarvo, where she studied the catalytic abilities of rhodium, palladium, and nickel based complexes to create new C-C, C-O and C-N bonds. In particular, she studied the addition of carbon-based nucleophiles to carbonyl-derived substrates, as well as sp3-sp3 carbon-carbon cross-coupling. Departing from organometallic catalysis, Florence chose to work for Prof. Dorothea Fiedler in the area of chemical biology. Among her projects, Florence developed a fluorescent reagent capable of detecting proteins and peptides which had been pyrophosphorylated. This reagent can be applied to in-gel visualization, allowing for a straightforward method of analysis.


    Florence is excited to combine all of the fundamental skills she has developed over her training and apply them towards improving chemical tools for the analysis of cellular behaviors.

  • Projects

    Boron-mediated Organic Transformations

    Our boron-mediated chemistry involves using the strong coordinating and activating characteristics of boron Lewis acids to cleave alkyl C-O bonds and to coordinate to oxygenated functionality for directed transformations. Boron Lewis acids are typically non-toxic after simple aqueous workup and are easily removed from the final product, making them attractive reagents.


    Check out our recent publications in this area:


    Bioorthogonal Cross-coupling Reactions

    We are pursuing the design and optimization of palladium catalysts for cross-coupling reactions that are performed in neutral protic conditions. Traditional cross-coupling reactions typically use organic solvents, strong bases, and elevated temperatures. In an effort to access both greener coupling conditions and to be able to modify biomolecules such as proteins (which can be sensitive to reaction environment), catalysts are designed based on first principles to accelerate these reactions in milder conditions.

    Neurotrophic Small Molecules

    As neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease increase in prevalence around the world, new strategies to halt or reverse disease progression are desperately needed. We are investigating the mechanism of neurotrophic (definintion: promoting the proliferation, growth or survival of neuron cells) small molecules in order to provide new insights into pathways of resistance to brain tissue degredation. It is our hope that such insights may light the way for new, more effective, therapeutic strategies.

  • Publications

    Andreas Dorian, Emily Landgreen, Hayley Petras, James Shepherd, Florence Williams

    Chem. Eur. J. (2021). 42, 27, 10839-10843.

    M. Zain H. Kazmi, Abhoy Karmakar, Vladimir K. Michaelis and Florence J. Williams

    Tetrahedron. (2019). 75, 11, 1465-1470.

    Bren Jordan P. Atienza, Nam Truong and Florence J. Williams

    Organic Letters. (2018). 20, 20, 6332-6335.

    Florence J. Williams and Dorothea Fiedler

    ACS Chemical Biology. (2015). 10, 9, 1958-1963.

    Florence J. Williams, Robin E. Grote and Elizabeth R. Jarvo

    Chemical Communications. (2012). 48, 10, 1496-1498.

    Florence J. Williams and Elizabeth R. Jarvo

    Angewandte Chemie International Edition. (2011). 50, 4459-4462.

    Talha S. Siddiqui, Ashish Jani, Florence Williams, Robert N. Muller, Luce Vander Elst, Sophie Laurent, Fang Yao, Youssef Zaim Wadghiri and Marc. A Walters

    Journal of Colloid and Interface Science. (2009). 337, 1, 88-96.

    Marc A. Walters, Jacqueline Chaparro, Talha Siddiqui, Florence Williams, Caleb Ulku and Arnold L. Rheingold

    Inorganica Chimica Acta. (2006). 359, 12, 3996-4000.

  • Group Members

    Benjamin Hale


    Benjamin received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa in 2009. In 2015, he received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State University under the guidance of Prof. Malika Jeffries-EL, where he investigated the synthesis of π-conjugated polymers and small molecules designed for organic photovoltaics. After a brief stint in industry, he joined the Williams group in the summer of 2019 as a postdoctoral researcher.

    Ashley Schneider

    PhD Student

    Ashley is from a small, quiet hometown in Wisconsin. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in 2018. During her undergraduate career, she pursued research under her Professor Nathan Bowling where she investigated fundamentals of halogen bonding before being given hints to continue to graduate school. After graduation, she was accepted to the graduate program at the University of Iowa where she joined the Williams group in 2019. When not in the lab, she can be found reading, doing all sorts of art, creating costumes, or practicing taekwondo.


    Piyumi Wijesirigunawardana

    PhD Candidate


    Piyumi was born and raised in Sri Lanka. She acquired her B.S in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Colombo Sri Lanka in 2017. During her undergraduate career, she pursued research under Dr. Gayani Perera where she developed a medicinal cotton smart textile using microencapsulation technology. After graduation, she worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Colombo. Then, she was accepted to the graduate Chemistry program at the University of Iowa where she joined the Williams group in 2019.


    Andrej Ćorković

    Graduate Student

    Andrej was born in Germany and moved to northern Illinois before the age of 5. He received his B.A. in Chemistry from Grinnell College in 2018. During his undergraduate career, he worked with Professor Erick Leggans where he attempted to synthesize Teixobactin analogues. After graduation, he spent 2 years working as a medical scribe in an ER before committing to the University of Iowa’s Chemistry graduate program and joined the Williams group in 2020. When not in lab, he enjoys playing/watching soccer and basketball, gaming, and watching anime.

    Theodora Leventis

    Graduate Student

    Theodora is from Rolla, Missouri. Proud of her corn land heritage, she obtained her B.S. in chemistry and minor in mathematics at Mizzou and now is a graduate student at UI working in the Williams research lab – she is Florence, and Theodora is The Machine. Unable to escape her Suzuki coupling past, her work is using palladium catalysts that she thankfully did not have to synthesize herself. While waiting for her reactions to go to completion, Theodora enjoys baking sweets and then eating them all at once, hiking through corn, and thinking about situations that will never happen. Theodora is most commonly spotted on her longboard and listening to music.


    Krystyn Dubicki

    MSc Student (Visiting - University of Alberta)

    Krystyn comes to the University of Iowa from Victoria, B.C, Canada. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, where she earned a B.Sc in Biochemistry and Honour's Thesis in Chemistry (supervised by Prof. Fraser Hof). After graduation Krystyn worked as an assistant in UVic's Occupational Health & Safety Department, then as a laboratory assistant/teaching assistant for UVic's Biochemistry & Microbiology 3rd and 4th year teaching labs and lastly as a microbiology technician at Vancouver Island University (Nanaimo, B.C). After 3 years of trying to find fruitful employment, Krystyn decided to venture east to the University of Alberta for graduate studies, and then followed Dr. Williams to the University of Iowa to finish her degree. Outside of the lab, Krystyn enjoys speedruns of video games, photography, cake decorating and cuddles with her megachonk cat, Smudge. You can follow her on Twitter @lilxtyn .

    Andreas Dorian

    PhD Student (Adjunct - University of Alberta)

    Andreas is from the warm and tranquil city of Edmonton. He acquired his undergraduate degree from the University of Alberta, during which time he completed a year-long internship at Gilead Sciences. He joined the Williams group in 2016, where he is known for having an odd, antiquated, and overall poor sense of humor.When not cleaning the lab to an inexplicable degree, he can be found making or drinking beer, hiking in the nearby rocky mountains, daydreaming about knot tying, or playing board games.

    Khyati Gohil

    PhD Student (Adjunct - University of Alberta)

    Khyati moved to Edmonton from the vibrant city of Mumbai to pursue her graduate studies in chemistry. She previously obtained her undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the Institute of Chemical Technology. After joining the lab in 2016, she has been working on the synthesis of neurotrophic molecules and elucidating their mechanism of action. When not busy looking through the microscope you will find her stargazing, snooping around bookstores and having fun with paints.

    Zain Kazmi

    PhD Student (Adjunct - University of Alberta)

    Zain was born and raised in India. He received his B. Sc. (Hons.) from University of Delhi where he worked on pharmacognosis of Selaginella sp. and evaluation of its antimicrobial activities. During his Masters from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, he worked in the lab of Ravi Bhushan on enantioseparation of racemic drugs. He later worked in the Vankar lab at IIT, Kanpur, as the summer intern and explored the alpha-glycosylation of 1,2-anhydrosugars using HClO4.SiO2 as the reagent system. In fall of 2017, Zain moved to Edmonton and joined the Williams lab as a PhD graduate student and is currently working on the organic synthesis of neurotrophic molecules. Outside of lab, Zain passionately dislikes video games, hates badminton and definitely despises hiking. Sometimes he can be seen struggling with guitar and taking absurd pictures.

    Group Alumni

    Parijat Tripathi (Undergrad)

    Princey Raju (PhD Student)

    Jonah Curl (Undergrad)

    Jared Ho (Undergrad)

    Yifan Yang (Undergrad)

    Luca Maiorana (Post Baccalaureate)

    Nam Truong (M.Sc. Student)

    Bren Atienza (PDF)

    Brenden Kelly (Undergrad)

    Benjamin Yeremey (Undergrad)

    Isaac Zeer-Wanklyn (Undergrad)

    Daniella Hernandez (Undergrad)

    Lenny Lin (Undergrad)

    Rei Chee (Undergrad)