The growing drive to develop more economical and sustainable practices has become a major influence on modern chemists. However, many commercial processes continue to utilize catalysts based on platinum group metals, which are expensive, toxic, and of increasingly limited supply. In our group, we use inorganic and organometallic chemistry, supported by theoretical computations, to develop inexpensive and sustainable catalysts for various chemical transformations. Our research interests can be separated into two main fields.
One area that we explore is the efficient and selective formation of carbon-carbon bonds through olefin metathesis. Traditional olefin metathesis catalysts developed by the Schrock and Grubbs groups utilize group VI metals (tungsten and molybdenum) and ruthenium, respectively. Our group focuses on developing olefin metathesis catalysts that exhibit the best characteristics of both of these systems; high activity and selectivity, as well as functional group tolerance, while also utilizing sustainable earth-abundant metals.
Another area that we investigate is the catalytic activation of small molecules, which is crucial for the future of sustainable energy. The reactivity of two of the most abundant gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, oxygen and nitrogen, are of particular interest. The reduction of oxygen and the oxidation of ammonia have potential applications in fuel cells, whereas the oxidation of water and the reduction of nitrogen are important for energy storage. These transformations, however, are exceedingly difficult. Fortunately, we can take inspiration from nature, where naturally occurring enzymes are capable of catalyzing these reactions using base metals. As such, we adapt key concepts from biological systems in order to develop sustainable artificial catalysts that exploit economical and abundant metals.