Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015
Aluminum-nitroxide Complexes: New Redox-Active Aluminum Complexes for Applications in C-H Activation
Organic synthesis, that branch of chemistry primarily concerned with creating and manipulating atoms and complex molecules of hydrogen, carbon and closely associated elements found in living things and their byproducts, often requires rare and expensive metals to catalyze chemical reactions.
Christopher R. Graves, assistant professor of chemistry at Albright College, has received a Cottrell College Science Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to develop catalysts based on low-toxicity, earth-abundant – and therefore inexpensive – aluminum. (Catalysts are substances that aid in a chemical reaction but are themselves not consumed by it.)
Specifically Graves seeks to create a catalyst that will prove effective for reactions involving the bonds between carbon and hydrogen atoms which are commonly found in organic materials. The C-H bond, as it’s called, is considered fairly hard to break, or cleave. But catalysts featuring metal atoms have proven to be the most effective at this task.
Such catalysts are generally called “coordination complexes,” and involve a metal core surrounded by other molecules called “ligands.” Coordination complexes work as catalysts because they’re good at donating or accepting electrons, which can lead to various chemical processes.
Graves and his students will attempt to create multidentate nitroxyl ligands, and will prepare the new coordination complexes of aluminum to go with them. (“Multidentate” harks back to Latin “dentis” – tooth-- because the ligands are thought of as biting onto the metal core of the molecule at two or more points. Nitroxyl, HNO, is loosely related to nitrous oxide – laughing gas.)
This project could lead to new, less expensive catalysts for organic synthesis, which could have major economic implications for medicine and industry.