F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 3 | p. 60 | Awards
Issue Date: January 15, 2007

F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry

Department: ACS News
Credit: John Curley
Credit: John Curley

Sponsored by the F. Albert Cotton Endowment Fund

Is Christopher C. (Kit) Cummins, 40, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most highly regarded chemist of his generation? His colleagues at MIT certainly make a good case for it.

In 1998, when Cummins was 32, he won both the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, which recognizes the achievements of outstanding chemists under 35, and the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award, which honors exceptional young researchers in any field of science or engineering. At 33, he was named one of Technology Review's 100 top young innovators. Several other prestigious honors soon followed.

So what's all the fuss about? For MIT's Stephen J. Lippard, it's all about Cummins' "extraordinary palette of beautiful chemistry, most of it having little or no precedent in the chemical literature."

Another MIT colleague, Daniel G. Nocera, notes that "Kit revolutionized inorganic chemistry" with the synthesis of three-coordinate metal(III) trisanilide complexes, M[N(t-Bu)Ar]3, where Ar = 3,5-C6H3(CH3)2. These complexes have showcased "some of the most remarkable reactions seen in the field of coordination chemistry in the past two decades," Nocera adds. Included are the activation of N2 and NO to form Mo≡N bonds. In particular, the cleavage of the N≡N bond at atmospheric pressure and ambient temperature "led to rapid international acclaim," Nocera points out.

The splitting of the multiple N-N bond of N2O, as opposed to the N-O bond, was "another remarkable accomplishment, as was his isolation and characterization of the first terminal carbide, Mo≡C," says Nocera. "Kit soon parlayed this knowledge into a route to prepare a compound containing the first terminal M≡P bond and soon thereafter converted the latter into a M-PS compound, thus forming the first P≡S complex ever."

In addition to these synthetic achievements, Cummins has shed light on how these reactions occur. Most significantly, he has exploited his tricoordinate molybdenum platform to effect alkyne metathesis.

Another major achievement of the Cummins lab has been its forays into the organometallic chemistry of uranium. For example, the lab has produced remarkable "inverted" uranocene complexes in which two uranium tricoordinate fragments sandwich a cyclooctatetraene ring. "The work is magnificent, pointing to the prominence of δ-bonding in the organometallic chemistry of 4f-block elements," Nocera comments, "and it has ignited a flurry of activity in the community."

When asked what research accomplishments he's proudest of, Cummins mentions the N2-splitting work and his group's recently reported discovery of complexes that extrude diphosphorus (P2) or its synthetic equivalent under mild conditions (C&EN, Sept. 4, 2006, page 7). The availability of such reactive P2 species "opens up a huge number of avenues for possible research," Cummins says.

Cummins' interest in organometallic chemistry was sparked as an undergraduate at Middlebury College in Vermont. After getting his B.A. in chemistry under Peter T. Wolczanski at Cornell University, Cummins continued his organometallic studies under Richard R. Schrock at MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in 1993.

Although Cummins interviewed for a position as assistant professor at several universities including MIT, he accepted MIT's offer, becoming the school's first-and so far only-chemistry graduate to be given a faculty position immediately following his MIT studies.

At MIT, Cummins' career has soared, and his work has exhibited "a combination of scholarly depth, intellectual insight, and creative virtuosity that is unmatched by others in his age group," says his colleague Gregory L. Hillhouse of the University of Chicago.

Cummins will deliver his award address before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.

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