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ACS Award In Industrial Chemistry

by Jean-François Tremblay
January 19, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 3

Credit: Courtesy of Thomas J. Colacot
Mug of Colacot.
Credit: Courtesy of Thomas J. Colacot

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Business Development & Management and the ACS Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry

The head of research and development in the area of homogeneous catalysis at Johnson Matthey, Thomas J. Colacot has been a leading contributor to the development of numerous homogeneous catalysts that are widely used both in academia and in a range of industries that implement chemical processes.

Over the years, Colacot has developed numerous catalysts for key transformations that enabled these technologies to be used on a commercial scale. He has also conducted fundamental research on the understanding of structure-activity relationships, which has led to new ligands and catalysts for fine-tuning reactivity patterns on palladium. An effective communicator, he has delivered about 400 scientific presentations at universities, industrial R&D labs, and technical conferences over the past 10 years.

“He is an academician in industrial clothing,” says Bruce H. Lipshutz, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Catalysts developed by Colacot allowed Lipshutz’s group to develop several cross-coupling reactions in water, including unexpected Negishi type couplings using water-sensitive organozinc reagents, generated in situ. They are now implemented in the discovery programs of major drug companies. Lipshutz credits Colacot’s seminal contributions and assistance for enabling him and his group to win a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2011.

Colacot’s status as a world-renowned scientist is evidenced by his coauthorship of an acclaimed review published recently in Angewandte Chemie International Edition that traced the history of the three 2010 Nobel Prize winners who had discovered cross-coupling chemistry, Lipshutz notes. In addition, he recently edited a Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) book entitled “New Trends in Cross-Coupling: Theory and Applications.”

Colacot joined Johnson Matthey as a development associate in 1995 and advanced until he became global homogeneous catalysis R&D head in 2006. A native of India, Colacot earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in 1989. He holds an M.B.A. from Pennsylvania State University and is a recipient of the 2012 RSC Applied Catalysis Award. He is also an RSC Fellow.

Many academic researchers are wary of industrial careers, but Colacot finds his work at Johnson Matthey highly stimulating. “I was always interested in carrying out research geared toward the advancement of society,” he says.

And it was his employer that got him started with catalysts. “I began to explore this area of catalysis accidently when I was hired at Johnson Matthey to do process chemistry,” he recalls. “I combined the phosphine and arsine synthesis experiences that I gained from my research at the Indian Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and my exposure to catalysis while I was a researcher at SMU/AMOCO-ATP, to start the catalysis research work at Johnson Matthey.”

Catalysis, he believes, is one of the most critical areas of chemistry. “Catalysis is the future of chemical technology because reduction of waste, sustainability, and greener processes are the way forward.”

ACS is hosting a symposium in Colacot’s honor on “New Trends in Cross-Coupling Catalysis for Industry & Academia.” It will feature 13 international speakers including 2010 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Ei-ichi Negishi.

Colacot will present his award address before the Division of Business Development & Management and the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.


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