With the support of the Chemical Catalysis Program in the Division of Chemistry, Dr. Miles Johnson of the University of Richmond is developing ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of catalysts for cross-coupling reactions â€“ chemical transformations that link carbon-based building blocks into larger molecules. Cross-coupling reactions are used extensively in chemical industry and the catalysts that promote these processes depend on molecules that are bound to the metal center called ligands. Dr. Johnson and his research group are developing new ligands to identify characteristics that promote fast and selective catalysis with abundant first row transition metals. These ligands are easy to prepare and can be modified in a systematic way to identify and tune the attributes that control catalysis. Undergraduate researchers on Dr. Johnsonâ€™s research team and undergraduate students in laboratory courses at the University of Richmond are working together to prepare these new ligands and study their activity. To improve accessibility to STEM disciplines at different levels of education, Dr. Johnson is also serving as a mentor for the University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience (URISE), a program intended to support students from groups underrepresented in STEM during their transition to college, and participating in workshops to engage Richmond area high school students and their teachers in chemistry on the University campus.
Dr. Miles Johnson and his research group are designing and testing aminophosphine ligands to discover new cross-coupling reactions and understand the mechanisms of existing ones. The modular synthesis of these ligands is designed to enable identification of the key steric and electronic properties that control reactivity in Câ€“N, Câ€“B, and Câ€“O bond-forming reactions. Models are being developed to correlate the salient features of these ligands with the reactivity that they impart in cross-coupling processes. These studies are critical for supporting the continued development of sustainable first row transition metal catalysts that are not as well understood as their precious metal analogues. Undergraduates in the Johnson group, laboratory courses, and a pre-first year program have been integrated to provide opportunities for a variety of different types of students to contribute to this research program and obtain hands-on experience in solving problems relevant to sustainable chemistry.
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.