Biographical Sketch

James Jackson was born in 1955 in Boston, Massachusetts. After obtaining his B.A. from Harvard in 1977, he sailed twice across the Atlantic, flirted with Oceanography research in a NOAA lab, and after starting graduate study with Wes Borden at the University of Washington, moved to Princeton where he earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry under the guidance of Professors Maitland Jones, Jr. and Leland C. Allen, in 1987. After a wonderful postdoctoral stay with Matt Platz at Ohio State University, he joined the Chemistry faculty at Michigan State University.

Green Research

James’ physical organic chemistry background has provided the foundation for experimental and computational studies in diverse areas: reactive intermediates, dihydrogen bonding, alkalides and electrides, organic molecular magnetic materials, and of course, development of biomass-based catalytic pathways to “petrochemicals.”  This latter effort represents a longterm collaboration with Prof. Dennis Miller in MSU’s Chemical Engineering department and has focused mainly on hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis processes for upgrading bio-based feedstocks, though several additional and supporting studies have also resulted. The goal is to replace fossil petroleum with renewables as the basis for chemicals and fuels. The group’s catalytic paths upgrade bio-based feedstocks (e.g. carbohydrates, organic acids) to commodity and specialty building blocks (e.g. 1,2-propanediol, chiral amino alcohols). Mechanistic insight— basic science—is key to process design—practical engineering—so the team focuses on adsorption, surface spectroscopy, and kinetic and quantum chemical modeling studies, complemented by classical mechanistic explorations of substituent effects, isotopic labeling, and variations in catalysts and conditions. Recently this quest for “biomass refinery operations” has shifted from classical hydrogenation to electrocatalytic upgrading of bio-based substrates, which now include crude biomass, as pre-processed in the labs of fast pyrolysis expert Prof. Chris Saffron of MSU’s Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and Forestry Departments.

Teaching Activities

In terms of educational activities, besides spicing up classical organic chemistry lectures with “Green” examples, Jackson has taught several versions of courses in “Green Chemistry,” both at MSU and internationally, at levels from an ongoing freshman seminar program at MSU to graduate courses at University of Zürich, Switzerland and at MSU.

Contact Information

Michigan State University

Department of Chemistry

East Lansing, MI 48824        

(517) 355-9715 ext. 141.

More information and links to a current list of peer-reviewed publications can be found at and among the MSU chemistry department’s faculty web pages at