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Lunch with a Laureate: Richard Schrock

04/30/2010 12:00 PM Museum
Richard Schrock, Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry

Description: Growing up in Indiana, exploring the local woods and pit where fossils were found, Richard Schrock early on became interested in the natural world. He was captivated by the way things worked. When he was eight, his older brother gave him a chemistry set and he knew that was what he wanted to do. "Like many things, you slide into what you enjoy doing."

Schrock explores his fascination with science and his own field of expertise-inorganic chemistry. While working at DuPont Central Research in the early 70s, where "you're supposed to make discoveries," he began working with metal compounds from Group 6 in the Period Table that ultimately led to the catalytic reaction that won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2005).

He remembers while at DuPont that he had no idea where his research would lead, but does remember going home one night and telling to his wife that he thought he had "done something interesting." When he moved to MIT in the mid"70s, he continued his work in this area.

Organic chemistry uses many different reactions to make molecules and, because many are not catalytic reactions, they tend to be wasteful, requiring too many iterations to reach the final result. Schrock's contribution has changed the way organic chemists can do their research-it is economically attractive and earns part of its importance by its "tremendous ongoing effect on the field."

The Olefin"Metathesis Reaction was discovered in 1956 and involves breaking carbon"carbon double bonds-incredibly strong bonds that are not easily broken. Olefins, or alkenes, are compounds that have carbon"carbon double bonds; reactions using catalysts that break those bonds create other new and useful carbon carbon double bond molecules. Schrock's work involved breaking metal"carbon double bond-work that later transferred to organic chemistry as well.

The applications of the Olefin"Metatheis Reaction-in areas such as medicine, biology, and pharmaceuticals-are continuing. New polymers are being created where the structure of the resulting double bond can be better controlled, done more efficiently, and in fewer steps. The Nobel Committee called it the "Metathesis Dance" and labeled it "green."

Schrock also talks about the life of a scientist and his life as a chemist. He emphasizes "science is the future. All major advances come down to science and scientific research. If you think about what you enjoy today, it's all based on science." He prefers to use his brain and not computers to think about many of the issues he is working on-old"fashioned knowledge and reasoning- evaluating results to see where to go next and why. Advising young scientists in the audience, he urges them to learn the delicate balance between taking too much risk or not risking enough in both scientific and professional endeavors.

About the Speaker(s): In 2005, Richard Schrock won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Y. Chauvin and R. H. Grubbs.

His interests include the inorganic and organometallic chemistry of high oxidation state early metal complexes, catalytic reactions and mechanisms of reactions involving alkylidene complexes, especially olefin metathesis reactions, the chemistry of high oxidation state dinitrogen and related complexes, and the controlled synthesis of polymers prepared using well"defined organometallic initiators. He is perhaps best known for his discovery of "high oxidation state carbene" (alkylidene complexes) by alpha hydrogen abstraction in high oxidation state metal alkyl complexes.

Schrock has been an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher"Scholar. He has received the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry (1985), the Harrison Howe Award of the Rochester ACS section (1990), an Alexander von Humboldt Award (1995), the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry (1996), the Bailar Medal from the University of Illinois (1998), and an ACS Cope Scholar Award in 2001. He was the Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson Lecturer and Medalist (2002) and the Sir Edward Frankland Prize Lecturer (2004). He has received the F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry (2006), the Theodore Richards Medal from the Northeast ACS section (2006), and the August Wilhelm von Hofmann Medal from the German Chemical Society (2005), He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He was Associate Editor of Organometallics for eight years, and has published more than 500 research papers.

Richard R. Schrock obtained his B. A. degree in 1967 from the University of California at Riverside and his Ph. D. degree from Harvard University in 1971. He spent one year as an NSF postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University followed by three years at the Central Research and Development Department of E. I. duPont de Nemours and Company. In 1975, he moved to M.I.T. where he became full professor in 1980 and the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry in 1989.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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