The Catalysis Program of the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation supports the research of Professor Paul Chirik at Princeton University. This research project is conducted in collaboration with Drs. Rebecca Ruck and Danielle Schultz and at Merck & Co. Inc. The research team is designing new catalysts - complexes that speed up desirable chemical reactions, often used for making pharmaceutical drugs, agricultural products, and other specialty and commodity chemicals. This team is designing and developing new catalysts using "earth-abundant elements" such as iron and cobalt. These elements are cheaper and more abundant than silver, gold, platinum, and other metals that are often used in industrial catalysis. The challenge in this work is that many commercial processes are optimized for platinum metals. To design replacements for these expensive and rare metals, the team is studying the detailed steps in the chemical reactions. The research team is taking advantage of high throughput robotics and "ligand libraries" to test large numbers of new catalysts rapidly and safely. Due to the strong collaboration with industry, this project results in excellent work experience for the next generation of scientists. Coworkers on this project include those from historically underrepresented groups.
Catalysis with first row transition metals, particularly iron and cobalt, as alternatives to precious metals is attractive. In addition to the potential cost and environmental benefits, these metals have often been shown to exhibit superior performance in terms of activity, selectivity, solvent profile as well as their unique abilities to produce new transformations. This research, conducted in collaboration with the chemical company Merck, focuses on understanding the mechanisms of first row transition metals in catalysis relevant to drug synthesis. Specific reactions of interest include methods for the stereoselective preparation of versatile polyboron compounds, asymmetric chain-running reactions to set remote stereocenters, and alcohol activation reactivity. Collaboration is key to this effort as fully integrated high throughout experiments, analytic methods, and target selection are facilitated by the industrial group, whereas fundamental organometallic chemistry, spectroscopy, and electronic structure determinations are done at Princeton. The broader impacts of the research takes advantage of the unique training environment created from the academic-industrial partnership to solve societal sustainability challenges. Educational efforts include elementary age children, non-scientist majors and advanced undergraduates and graduates studying catalysis.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.