Greg Springsteen Faculty and Staff Chemistry Furman University

“If a soiled shirt is placed in a vessel containing grains of wheat, the reaction of the leaven in the shirt with fumes from the wheat will, after approximately twenty-one days, transform the wheat into mice”, Jan Baptist van Helmont, Flemish chemist, early 1600s.
Springsteen bio, figure 1

Research at the interface of chemistry and biology can be challenging; misconception and miscommunication are a constant threat. Bridging this divide, however, can enhance the potential for deeper insights into the chemical phenomenon of life. Greg Springsteen’s training and research have focused on applying the principles of mechanistic organic chemistry to understanding life and its origins. He is a Theme Leader of a joint NSF/NASA research consortium called the Center for Chemical Evolution, which comprises ~18 research labs from across the country with diverse abilities to jointly tackle questions related to the chemical origins of life. In the last five years, the Springsteen lab, with 21 undergraduate researchers, has published six research articles on the chemical origins of life and won grant awards totaling ~$750,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Dr. Springsteen earned a B.A. in biology from the University of Virginia, followed by a Ph.D. from North Carolina State in synthetic organic chemistry. He finished his training at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) studying molecular evolution. He began his professional career at Furman University in 2006 and applies his diverse training to teach an array of classes including Organic Chemistry (CHM 120), Bio-organic Chemistry (CHM 220), Foundations of Chemistry (CHM 110), Biological Chemistry (CHM 460), Advanced Biological Chemistry (CHM 465), Experimental Techniques (CHM 240), and a first year seminar in Molecular Gastronomy (FYS 1152). His guiding principle in the classroom is to take full advantage of the fact that the joy of learning is irresistibly infectious. When treated with respect, Furman students will respond with full faith and effort.

Dr. Springsteen was named a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar in 2018 and awarded an SCICU Excellence in Teaching Award in 2018 and a Henry Keith and Ellen Townes Professorship in 2016-2017.

Name Title Description


Seminar in Chemistry

Seminars presented based on current literature. Presentations include articles detailing the application of chemical principles and techniques to the natural environment. Surveys of assigned journals are presented individually; more detailed presentations are made by small groups working as teams. Topics include: coverage of recent important developments, global awareness of the application of chemistry to the natural world, experience in making scientific presentations, and encouragement of good literature reading habits.


Foundations of Chemistry

Introduction to the principles of chemistry. Topics include: atomic and molecular structure and chemical bonding, stoichiometry, properties of the states of matter, and energetics of chemical reactions with emphasis on problem solving, conceptual understanding, and analytical reasoning. Laboratory focuses on quantitative measurements and interpretation of data.


Organic Chemistry

Emphasis on the application of chemical principles to carbon compounds. Physical and chemical properties of the major organic functional groups, an introduction to stereochemistry, molecular stability, and related concepts of organic compounds are covered. Laboratory emphasizes reaction set-ups, recrystallization, distillation, extraction, and chromatography.


Bio-Organic Chemistry

Introduction to the organic chemistry of living systems. Topics include: the structure and chemistry of proteins, mechanistic enzymology, the organic chemistry of cofactors, DNA-drug interactions, and the biosynthesis of natural products.


Experimental Techniques

Laboratory exercises involving multi-step synthesis, purification, and analysis of both organic and inorganic compounds. Use of modern chemical instrumentation, utilization of the chemical literature, and the oral and written presentation of experimental data are requirements.


Topics in Chemistry

Topics important in various fields of modern chemistry designed as a tutorial to meet the special needs of individual students.


Graduate Seminar in Chemistry

Students present seminars based on current literature. Surveys of assigned journals are presented individually; more detailed presentations are made by small groups.



Original laboratory research



Master's thesis


Summer Undergraduate Research

In my research lab, a group of 3-6 undergraduates and I seek to understand the chemical origins of life (abiogenesis). We search for answers by comparing the mechanistic organic chemistry of biological metabolism with that of spontaneous geochemical and astrochemical reactions. Our efforts are guided by the hypothesis that core components of modern metabolism existed as spontaneous reactions in an abiotic (without life) environment, prior to their incorporation and adaptation into chemical systems capable of rudimentary replication. These central biosynthetic “arteries” may then have remained frozen at the core of an expanding metabolic network with increasing functionality. If true, the discovery of abiotic environments that reproduce these arteries will aid in the recapitulation of abiogenesis, much as an analysis of the US interstate highway system might reveal important clues about the pathways of the early emigrant trails that served as their foundation.

Springsteen research, figure 1 Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries. The University of Texas at Austin.

We are particularly interested in the mechanisms of formation of nucleic acid components (DNA/RNA), and oxidative decarboxylation pathways like the citric acid cycle (TCA). Our primary methods of discovery include the synthesis of isotopically labelled intermediates for tracing protometabolic reaction pathways, and the recovery and analysis of intermediates from plausible prebiotic reaction mixtures. We use data obtained from these efforts to reconstruct step-by-step abiotic synthetic mechanisms and compare these routes to modern metabolism.

Springsteen research, figure 2

Please view our publications (above tab) and those of our CCE collaborators) to explore recent discoveries towards our understanding of the chemical origins of life.

  • Springsteen, G.; Yerabolu, J. R.; Nelson, J.; Rhea, C. J.; Krishnamurthy, R. Linked cycles of oxidative decarboxylation of glyoxylate as protometabolic analogs of the citric acid cycle. Nature Communications, 2018, 9, 91.
  • Rice, G. B.; Yerabolu, J. R.; Krishnamurthy, R.; Springsteen, G. The Abiotic Oxidation of Organic Acids to Malonate. Synlett 2017, 28 (1), 98–102.
  • Springsteen, G. Reaching Back to Jump Forward: Recent Efforts towards a Systems-Level Hypothesis for an Early RNA World. ChemBioChem 2015, 16 (10), 1411–1413.
  • Wang, J.; Gu, J.; Nguyen, M. T.; Springsteen, G.; Leszczynski, J. From formamide to purine: a self-catalyzed reaction pathway provides a feasible mechanism for the entire process. J. Phys. Chem. B 2013, 117, 9333-42.
  • Wang, J.; Gu, J.; Nguyen, M. T.; Springsteen, G.; Leszczynski, J. From formamide to adenine: a self-catalytic mechanism for an abiotic approach. J. Phys. Chem. B 2013, 117, 14039-45.
  • Wang, J.; Gu, J.; Nguyen, M. T.; Springsteen, G.; Leszczynski, J. From formamide to purine: an energetically viable mechanistic reaction pathway. J. Phys. Chem. B 2013, 117, 2314-20.
  • Hudson, J. S.; Eberle, J. F.; Vachhani, R. H.; Rogers, L. C.; Wade, J. H.; Krishnamurthy, R.; Springsteen, G. A unified mechanism for abiotic adenine and purine synthesis in formamide. Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. Engl. 2012, 51, 5134-7.
Ph.D., North Carolina State University
B.A., University of Virginia

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