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James Flack Norris Award In Physical Organic Chemistry

by Linda Wang
February 20, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 8

Credit: Ieva Reich
Credit: Ieva Reich

Sponsored by the ACS Northeastern Section

Hans J. Reich, 68, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is being recognized for his contributions to the understanding of the structure of main-group organometallic reagents, which are organic compounds that contain carbon-metal bonds.

“Reich draws on his mastery of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to design experiments that provide unprecedented insight concerning the structure of organolithium reagents, their dynamic behavior in solution, and their mechanisms of reaction,” says Robert J. McMahon, a professor of chemistry at UW Madison.

Organolithium reagents are among the most commonly used reagents in small-scale chemistry, Reich says. “In contrast to a number of the other common metals, lithium is a nucleus that is very suitable for NMR spectroscopy,” he notes. “Lithium spectra are very rich in information. One could gain a lot of understanding about these reagents by carefully examining them.”

Reich says a major turning point in his research came when his lab purchased a 360-MHz superconducting NMR spectrometer. “We were very fortunate because we had an NMR spectrometer that could go to unusually low temperatures,” says Reich. “All of a sudden, we started seeing lots of stuff that we had really struggled to see before.”

Reich says that running an NMR spectrometer at extremely low temperatures helps slow reactions down so researchers can see what is going on with more clarity, much like slowing down a movie so you can watch it frame by frame. “Most people consider –110 °C to be a really low temperature,” says Reich. “We’ve gone down to –160 °C and gotten decent NMR spectra.”

One of his major discoveries involved the reactivity of n-butyllithium. Researchers had believed the dimer of n-butyllithium was roughly 10 times more reactive than the tetramer. But using low-temperature NMR spectroscopy, Reich determined the dimer was 138 million times more reactive than the tetramer.

“This was really an eye-opener, because people had assumed that these things were minimally competitive, and we showed that there was no contest between these two species,” Reich says. “People had been making decisions about how you do reactions based on incorrect knowledge about what’s going on in these solutions.”

Reich was born in Danzig, Germany, in 1943, during World War II. His father spent two years in France as a prisoner of war. When Reich was seven years old, his family immigrated to Canada, where his father found work as a butcher and his mother became a seamstress in a jeans factory.

Reich earned a B.Sc. in chemistry from the University of Alberta in 1964. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1968 from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he worked for Nobel Laureate Donald J. Cram. Reich then completed two postdocs, the first in John D. Roberts’ lab at California Institute of Technology, and the second at Harvard University with Nobel Laureate Robert B. Woodward.

Reich joined the chemistry department at UW Madison as an assistant professor in 1970. He was promoted to associate professor in 1976 and full professor in 1979. His wife, Ieva L. Reich, is also on the chemistry faculty, serving as a senior lecturer.

Reich will present the award address before the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.



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