Wade Downey attended college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he first pursued research in the laboratory of Mike Crimmins and graduated in 1997.  After earning his B.S. degree, Wade moved to Harvard University for graduate study and developed a love for the aldol reaction under the guidance of David Evans. While there, he was inspired by Claude Wintner, a professor visiting Harvard from Haverford College, to pursue a career at a predominantly undergraduate institution.  After defending his thesis in 2003, Wade moved on to MIT for postdoctoral work in the laboratory of Greg Fu, studying the reactivity of catalytically generated acetylides.

In the fall of 2005, Wade began his independent career at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.  He was promoted to associate professor in 2011, and to full professor in 2017.  He has mentored the research experiences of more than 50 undergraduates (and counting).  His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund, The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Research Corporation, the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust, Organic Synthesis, Inc., and the University of Richmond.