This award in the Chemical Synthesis (SYN) program supports work by Professor Christopher C. Cummins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to carry out fundamental studies on the chemistry of compounds containing group 15 elements, with emphasis on nitrogen, phosphorus, and arsenic. Methods for the direct incorporation of atmospheric nitrogen into organic molecules will be sought in order to bypass the ammonia intermediate that is generated in the traditional energy-intensive ammonia synthesis process. This could remove the requirement for fossil fuel-derived hydrogen in the synthesis of organonitrogen compounds. Elemental phosphorus is the industrial precursor to specialty chemicals that contain this element, including those required as flame-retardants and lithium battery electrolytes. The present technique of initial phosphorus chlorination is wasteful, most obviously when chlorine is not present in the synthetic target. Methods are sought for a more direct incorporation of phosphorus into value-added materials. Modern technology benefits from advanced semiconducting materials including gallium phosphide and indium arsenide. Methods will be developed for the controlled and selective incorporation of nitrogen, phosphorus, and arsenic into advanced materials.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are biogenic elements whose global cycles impact life on Earth directly, as they are required in large amounts for the synthesis of both DNA and proteins. These elements also have indirect impact, as nitrogen fixation for fertilizer manufacture is energy-intensive, and the loss of phosphorus to the oceans in ground water causes blooms of eutrophication. Efficient processes for incorporation of group 15 elements into essential compounds are required technology for responsible stewardship of our precious elemental resources.