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William Jones: Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awardee

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by David J. Hanson
March 9, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 10

Credit: Courtesy of William Jones
Credit: Courtesy of William Jones

Colleagues describe the mechanistic work of William D. Jones in organometallic chemistry as exceptional, insightful, and pathbreaking. "He is one of the leading organometallic chemists of his generation, and his research involves originality in experimental design, elegance in execution, and deep insights into data analysis," says Charles P. Casey, the Homer B. Adkins Emeritus Professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"He has addressed problems of enormous significance, and his penetrating analysis and the deep insights gained from these studies have taught us not only new concepts and new ways to think about bond activations, but also new ways to mechanistically dissect such problems," claims Maurice S. Brookhart, the W. R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Jones's work concentrates on the coordination and oxidative cleavage of carbon-hydrogen bonds of simple hydrocarbons to transition-metal centers, especially rhodium complexes. His many discoveries in this area include the first direct information about competitive hydrocarbon activation and the fact that alkane activation competes kinetically with arene activation even though the latter is favored thermodynamically.

Another goal Jones, 55, has pursued is carbon-hydrogen bond functionalization. His success with complexes containing functionalized ligands such as isocyanides, demonstrates that catalysis is possible under the proper conditions. In related work, Jones has found a metal complex that can be used for intramolecular functionalization of sp3- and sp2-hybridized C–H bonds leading to catalytic syntheses of indoles, quinolines, and isoquinolines.

Jones is also being recognized for his mechanistic talent and insights to key problems involving metal-mediated cleavage of other strong carbon bonds, including carbon-sulfur, carbon-fluorine, and carbon-carbon bonds. In one case, he developed an active nickel hydride dimer that removes the sulfur from dibenzothiophene and is regenerated afterward. "This work has the potential to lead to new, efficient desulfurization catalysis, a potentially important advance in environmental chemistry," Brookhart says.

Jones also has made advances in the development of methods for studing aryl–CN bond cleavage and aryl-acetylene cleavage. "Jones has extended his studies to include a detailed understanding of C–CN cleavage in the DuPont adiponitrile synthesis, in which allyl-cyanide C–CN bonds are reversibly cleaved and formed," Casey says.

"His articles demonstrate not only exceptional experimental abilities, but also keen insights broadly applicable across organo-transition-metal chemistry and into other fields, including physical organic chemistry," comments John E. Bercaw, the Centennial Professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology.

Jones received a B.S. in chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and a Ph.D. from Caltech in 1979. After a one-year position as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral researcher in Casey's lab, Jones joined the faculty of the University of Rochester, where he currently is the C. F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry.

Among the numerous honors Jones has received during his career are the 2003 ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry. He is also the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship, a Royal Society Guest Research Fellowship, and the Fellowship Award from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Jones serves as an associate editor for the Journal of the American Society.


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