For his contributions to organometallic chemistry research, Robert G. Bergman, Gerald E. K. Branch Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, will receive the 2014 Welch Award in Chemistry.
The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, supports fundamental chemical research at educational institutions. It gives out the $300,000 award yearly to “foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of mankind.”
Bergman, 71, garnered this year’s prize for discovering transition-metal complexes that can activate a hydrocarbon’s C–H bond—one of the most intractable, but crucial, processes in organic synthesis. Accomplishing this feat allows chemists to attach myriad species to the now-available carbon atoms and create a wealth of industrially and pharmaceutically useful compounds.
“He really is one of the world’s most impressive organometallic chemists,” says Marye Ann Fox, chair of the Welch Foundation’s scientific advisory board. “He has found a whole plethora of ways in which that reaction can be used to study mechanistic or synthetic questions, and he’s been a wonderful colleague as well,” Fox adds.
“I was honored by my choice as this year’s Welch awardee,” Bergman says. “The award does not recognize just my research, but just as much, if not more, the conceptual and experimental contributions of the many creative and hardworking coworkers and collaborators that I have had over the years,” he says.
Bergman has many other research accomplishments under his belt, including his study of the cycloaromatization of enediynes, which proceeds via a highly reactive radical species. This reaction—now known as the Bergman cyclization—was later pinpointed as the mechanism by which certain enediyne natural products initiate DNA damage in tumors. It has led to the study of synthetic enediyne compounds as possible cancer drugs.
Bergman earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and was a professor at California Institute of Technology for 10 years. He moved to UC Berkeley in 1978. He and his wife, Wendy, have two sons, David and Mike, and two grandchildren.