Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2016

Michael J. Rose

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Texas at Austin

Imparting Precious Metal Properties to First-Row Metals with Heavy Atom Ligands, and Connecting & Encouraging Undergraduates for Outreach Activities via ‘Undergraduate Outreach Corps’

A catalyst is a substance that increases the efficiency of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed by that reaction. Unfortunately, many of the most effective catalysts used in research as well as manufacturing are composed of precious metals that cost $2,000 an ounce or more.

Michael J. Rose, assistant professor of chemistry, University of Texas at Austin, is working to bring that cost down dramatically.

It is thought that precious metal catalysts are often effective because their constituent elements – such as platinum, iridium and rhodium – exhibit a property known as spin-orbit coupling. This property is thought to enable chemistry that is otherwise difficult to achieve, like C–C and C–H bond-making and bond-breaking reactions. However, the high cost of such precious metal catalysts can preclude the development or widespread application of such processes.

Rose hopes to increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of metal-mediated catalysis by simulating the properties of precious metals using a clever combination of cheaper elements, in the form of lighter transition metals (iron, cobalt, nickel, etc.) bound to heavy main group elements like antimony and bismuth. In contrast to the price of heavy precious metals, antimony and bismuth are abundant and inexpensive (~$2-6/oz.).

And while it is known that such cheap, heavy elements can mimic some magnetic properties of heavy metals, Rose will take on the challenge of synthesizing this new class of compound and testing its ability to perform C–C and C–H bond cleavage reactions. The successful development of these catalysts will, for example, enable a new scope of chemical feedstocks to be derived from natural gas, rather than using methane only for combustion and electricity generation.

For the education component of the Cottrell Scholar Award, Rose plans to develop a volunteer “Undergraduate Outreach Corps” to engage, recruit and maintain an active pool of students eager to participate in scientific research as well as other programs on campus. Such a program will benefit not only Rose’s own outreach program about solar energy and renewable fuels, but also other faculty members in his department seeking to develop effective outreach programs.

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