William Tam

Headshot of William Tam
Department of Chemistry
Phone number: 
(519) 824-4120 ext. 52268
MACN 332
Available positions for grads/undergrads/postdoctoral fellows: 

Education and Employment Background

Dr. William Tam received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 1995. Between 1996 and 1997 he held a position as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) postdoctoral research fellow at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom. Between 1997 and 1998 he was an NSERC postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Tam joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Guelph in 1998 where he is now a full professor.

Research Themes

The objective of Tam’s research is to develop new methodologies in organic synthesis to construct complex organic molecules with high regio-, stereo- and enantiocontrol.  Investigation on novel synthetic methodologies for the construction of different ring systems, including: nitrogen-containing heterocyclic compounds, spirocyclic compounds, attached-ring compounds and polycyclic compounds, is of particular interest.  Key areas of focus include:

  1. Intramolecular cycloadditions of substituted norbornadienes. Tam’s long-term goal is to develop an efficient route for the construction of anguarly fused tricyclic and spirocyclic complex natural products with biological activity.  
  2. Synthesis of substituted norbornadienes. Substituted norbornadienes are important compounds, which have found a place as key intermediates in the synthesis of many natural products, such as prostaglandins PGH2 and PGG2, cis-Trikentrin B, and b-santalol.  Photochemical valence isomerization between norbornadiene and quadricyclane is of interest as a solar energy conversion and storage system. Tam and his research group have developed a new method via a double lithium-halide exchange of 2,3-dibromonorbornadiene for the synthesis of a variety of 2,3-disubstituted norbornadienes (Can. J. Chem. 2000, 78, 527).  They have also studied the Pd-catalyzed Sonogashira couplings and Suzuki couplings of 2,3-dibromonorbornadienes for the synthesis of symmetrical and unsymmetric norbornadiene-2,3-diynes (Synthesis 2002,1675) and 2,3-diarylsubstituted norbornadienes (Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2005, 1044).
  3. Transition metal-catalyzed [2+2] cycloadditions. Studies on transition metal-catalyzed [2+2] cycloadditions between alkenes and alkynes are one of the major foci of Tam’s research program.  His group has recently studied various aspects of Ru-catalyzed [2+2] cycloadditions, including: asymmetric cycloadditions (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2004, 43, 610), reactivity studies (J. Org. Chem. 2004, 69, 8467; J. Org. Chem. 2006, 71, 5830), remote substituent effects (Org. Lett. 2000, 2, 3031), studies of alkynyl halides (Org. Lett. 2004, 6, 4543) and ynamides (Org. Lett. 2005, 7, 3681) as the alkyne component in the cycloaddition, theoretical studies (J. Org. Chem. 2006, 71, 3793; Tetrahedron 2007, 63, 7659) and others. 
  4. Novel metal-catalyzed organic reactions. The design and development of new transition metal-catalyzed reactions that are normally forbidden or difficult to achieve under ordinary conditions are crucial in organic synthesis.  Tam and his team have initiated several new programs on novel transition metal-catalyzed reactions, including: Ru-catalyzed Isomerization of Oxa/azabicyclic Alkenes for the Synthesis of 1,2-Naphthalene Oxides and Imines (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 3514), Ru-catalyzed cyclopropanation reactions (Organometallics 2006, 25, 843), Rh-catalyzed Diels-Alder reactions of Alkynyl Halides (Org. Lett. 2005, 7, 5853), Palladium-catalyzed Suzuki Couplings (Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2005, 1044), Fe-catalyzed couplings, Ring-Opening Metathesis-Cross Metathesis reactions, and others.


  • NSERC Discovery Grant: 1999-2025
  • University of Guelph Presidential Distinguished Professor Award, 2006-2008
  • University of Guelph Faculty Association Distinguished Professor Award, 2007
  • Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research Grant, 2007-2008
  • Boehringer Ingelheim Young Investigator Award, 2000-2003

Media Coverage

Awards and Honours

  • University of Guelph Faculty Association: Teaching Award Winners