If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Ring Around The Catalyst

Switchable rotaxane masks organocatalyst in one position and exposes it in another

by Bethany Halford
April 7, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 14

A structure of a switchable roxatane. It contains a chiral acrylic secondary amine (green), a triazolium ring (black), and a crown ether macrocycle (red).

An asymmetric catalyst that can be switched on via deprotonation and switched off by simply adding acid has been developed by chemists at the University of Manchester, in England. The system, created by David A. Leigh and coworkers, features a chiral acyclic secondary amine (shown, green) as an asymmetric organocatalyst housed within a rotaxane (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/ja501561c). Rotaxanes are mechanically interlocked molecules in which a macrocycle is threaded onto a dumbbell-shaped compound. In Leigh’s rotaxane system, the center of the dumbbell contains both the organocatalyst and a triazolium ring (black). When the organocatalyst is protonated, a crown ether macrocycle (red) encircles it, preventing it from participating in a chemical reaction. Deprotonating the molecule prompts the macrocycle to move to the triazolium ring and exposes the catalyst. Leigh’s team found that when the catalyst is exposed, it can participate in an asymmetric Michael addition. “Simultaneously employing different types of artificial switchable asymmetric catalysts may enable different products to be prepared from common pools of achiral building blocks, simply by switching the different catalysts on and off,” the chemists note.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.