With this award, the Chemical Catalysis Program of the NSF Division of Chemistry is supporting the research of Professor Melanie Sanford of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Michigan to study the fundamental reactivity of nickel and copper catalysts for making organic molecules. Transition metal catalysts are used to manufacture many important products, including life-saving pharmaceuticals, crop-protecting agrochemicals, and electronic materials. The cost and sustainability of these products are directly impacted by the development of new catalysts that are less expensive, generate less waste, and operate under milder reaction conditions. A particularly important goal is to replace catalysts that require rare and expensive precious metals (e.g. palladium) with catalysts derived from inexpensive and more readily available metals (e.g. nickel and copper). Many exciting advances have recently been made in this direction, but the performance of these less expensive catalysts still lags behind precious metal catalysts. To fix his problem, the fundamental reactivity of the inexpensive catalysts needs to be better understood. Professor Sanford and her research group are studying the reactivity of nickel and copper catalysts to determine how to make these compounds perform as well or better than precious metal analogues in speeding up the synthesis of desired organic molecules. Outreach activities are directed towards encouraging women to engage in STEM fields at a variety of levels through the participation of Professor Sanford and her research group in mentoring workshops, panel discussions, and the University of Michigan Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES) program, which introduces middle school girls to hands-on science.
The development of first row transition metal catalyzed processes for the synthesis of organic molecules has recently had an upsurge in activity. Excitement surrounding these transformations stems from the sustainability advantage of designing earth abundant and inexpensive catalyst scaffolds, as well as the unique reactivity patterns accessible to first row transition metal complexes. Despite the number of important nickel- and copper-catalyzed crossing coupling and C-H functionalization reactions that have been reported, the synthesis and fundamental reactivity of the organometallic nickel(III), nickel(IV), and Cu(III) compounds implicated in these transformations have not been systematically explored. Professor Sanford and her research group are working to establish the feasibility and mechanisms of a variety of transformations at nickel(III), nickel(IV), and copper(III) centers using directing group coordinated substrates, as well as undirected processes supported by aminoquinoline ligands. The reactivity and selectivity profiles that are being established herein are expected to have a transformative impact on the design and optimization of new high valent nickel- and copper-catalyzed transformations. This project is also training a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students in the interdisciplinary areas of inorganic and organic synthesis, inorganic reaction mechanisms, and catalysis. A well-trained and diverse scientific workforce is essential for continued advances in advanced manufacturing innovation and technology in the 21st century.
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.