For his discovery of the activation of carbon-hydrogen bonds of hydrocarbons by soluble transition-metal complexes, Robert Bergman has won the 2017 Wolf Prize in Chemistry. Bergman is the Gerald E.K. Branch Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.
The $100,000 prize is among five awards given out this year by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation to honor achievements in medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and the arts. The awards are sometimes referred to as the Israeli Nobels.
“I was both surprised and honored to hear about the Wolf Prize decision,” Bergman says. “I have immense respect for this program because it reflects the dedication of both the Wolf Foundation and the Israeli government to achievements in the arts and in fundamental, long-term research in science, even in the face of pressures that are increasing worldwide for short-term payoffs from research investments.”
In the early 1980s, Bergman discovered the first transition-metal compound, an iridium complex, to catalyze the activation of C–H bonds, leading to an oxidative addition reaction. More recently, he discovered methods to apply catalytic C–H bond activation reactions to the synthesis of a wide variety of useful heterocycles. His discoveries have been the basis for advances in areas such as petroleum chemistry (C–H activation) and medicinal chemistry (enediyne cycloaromatization).
“I want to emphasize that the work resulting in this award was due in no small part to the intellectual, experimental, and theoretical contributions of the students and postdoctoral associates who have worked closely with me during my career,” Bergman says.
He and the other award recipients will be honored at a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in June.