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F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry

February 13, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 7

Credit: Photo By L. Barry Hetherington
Credit: Photo By L. Barry Hetherington

Sponsored by the F. Albert Cotton Endowment Fund

Although Richard R. Schrock shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis" (C&EN, Oct. 10, 2005, page 8), the work of this pioneer in organometallic chemistry encompasses much more.

Indeed, Schrock's interests include synthetic and mechanistic organotransition metal and inorganic chemistry, catalysis, and polymers. As one colleague notes: "Schrock has made seminal contributions in inorganic, organometallic, organic, and polymer chemistry that have had a profound influence on how chemists operate on a day-to-day basis."

The research that he has worked on the longest involves complexes that contain a metal-carbon double bond (alkylidenes) or a metal-carbon triple bond (alkylidynes) in which the metal is in its highest possible oxidation state. Here, Schrock found true metal-carbon multiple bonds and investigated the reaction chemistry of these species, dubbed the "Schrock carbenes." These new systems challenged the conventional wisdom of valence and metal-carbon bonding.

Subsequent work revealed that the alkylidene and alkylidyne species were intermediates in metathesis and polymerization reactions. It was this work that led his group to develop an efficient metal-compound catalyst for olefin metathesis, the 2005 Nobel Prize-winning topic.

His group is currently developing catalysts for asymmetric olefin metathesis, in particular for ring-closing metathesis. They hope to design catalysts that are longer lived and more efficient. A colleague notes that "it is impossible to attend a conference or peruse a journal in organic chemistry without coming across an application of this technique."

Schrock has made many other significant contributions. For example, he is interested in the activation and reduction of dinitrogen, with the ultimate goal of using a transition metal to catalytically reduce N2 to NH3.

Even with the Nobel Prize to his credit, the Cotton Award is a fitting addition to his trophy case. As one colleague notes, "Schrock is clearly recognized as a leader in inorganic, organometallic, and polymer chemistry." He has "literally transformed a field through the synthesis and study of new classes of compounds having metal-carbon multiple bonds."

Schrock, 61, received an A.B. degree from the University of California, Riverside, in 1967. He obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1971 working under the tutelage of J. A. Osborn. He spent one year as a postdoctoral student at Cambridge University, 1971-72, performing research with Sir Jack Lewis. After a three-year stint as a research chemist at DuPont, Schrock joined the faculty at MIT in 1975 as an assistant professor. As of 1989, he is the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry.

He has authored more than 425 publications, holds 13 patents, and has supervised more than 140 graduate and postdoctoral students. His numerous awards include an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellowship (1976-78), an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award (1995), an ACS Cope Scholar Award (2001), and the Royal Society of Chemistry Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson Medal (2002). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.-Stephen Trzaska


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