Dongwhan Lee was born in Kyungju, Korea in 1970 and grown up in Daegu, before he undertook a major in Chemistry at Seoul National University. From 1991 to 1993, he conducted undergraduate research in the laboratory of Prof. Junghun Suh, working on the synthesis of amide substrates for polymer-supported metallohydrolase model compounds. From there he was introduced to the fascinating world of biomimetic chemistry.
After completing military service in Korean Air Force, he continued his graduate study at SNU under the supervision of Profs. Junghun Suh and Myunghyun Paik Suh, and received a MS degree in organic chemistry. Redox chemistry of nickel azamacrocyclic complexes, his thesis project, ultimately convinced him to depart from organic chemistry, his undergraduate passion, to pursue careers in inorganic chemistry.
In 1996, he arrived at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined the research group of Prof. Stephen J. Lippard. During the following 5 years, his research interests focused on the structural, spectroscopic, and reactivity studies of iron complexes as synthetic models of dioxygen-activating non-heme diiron enzymes. After receiving a Ph.D. degree, he moved on (downstairs, to be factual!) to pursue postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Prof. Timothy M. Swager. During the subsequent one and half years, he developed synthetic routes to sterically hindered pyrrole derivatives that define "space" around the resulting conducting polymers.
In 2003, Dongwhan began his independent research career as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington, and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2009. In Summer 2013, he moved his research group to Seoul National University. The Lee group's research program is broadly based on synthetic inorganic and organic chemistry of functional molecules and materials, with current focus on mechanical coupling of artificial receptors, self-assembly and molecular switching with fluorogenic structures, and electroactive polymers for chemical sensing and electrocatalysis. The common theme threading through the group’s on-going research is designing and implementing cooperative electro-mechanical coupling schemes that can amplify local structural changes to “readable” optoelectronic signaling events at molecular and supramolecular level.
He is the awardee of NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award (2006–2010), IU Outstanding Junior Faculty Award (2006–2007), IU Trustees Teaching Award (2006–2007), and Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2008–2010).