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Richard R. Schrock

Richard R. Schrock

Organic chemistry, metathesis reaction

Frederic G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2005 (jointly with Yves Chauvin and Robert H. Grubbs) “for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis”


Dr. Schrock was born in Berne, Indiana in 1945, but his family moved to San Diego, California in 1959. His curiosity and love for building things made an impression on his older brother, who gave him a chemistry set for his eighth birthday. He created a small laboratory and built shelves for his ever-increasing collection of test tubes, beakers and flasks. He acquired most of his equipment with money earned from an early morning paper route and started conducting simple experiments. He always assumed he would go to university and study chemistry.

He attended Mission Bay High School in San Diego, California and went on to the University of California, Riverside to study chemistry, earning a BSc in 1967 and a PhD from Harvard in 1971. In 1971-72, he did postdoctoral studies at the University of Cambridge with Lord Jack Lewis. In 1972, he was hired by DuPont, where he worked at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware in the group run by George Parshall. It was at DuPont that he first came across olefin metathesis, and began to consider the possibilities of a catalyst.

He joined the teaching staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and became a full professor in 1980. He has held his current post as the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry at MIT since 1989. Schrock is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and was elected to the Board of Overseers of Harvard University in 2007.

He is the co-founder and a member of the board of a Swiss-based company dedicated to the development and application of proprietary metathesis catalysts.

His research

In 2005, Schrock received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Robert H. Grubbs and Yves Chauvin, for his work in the area of olefin metathesis, an organic synthesis technique. Schrock was the first to elucidate the structure and mechanism of so called “black box” olefin metathesis catalysts. Initial work at DuPont involved the synthesis of tantalum alkylidenes, alkylidenes being a crucial resting state in the catalytic cycle of olefin metathesis. His work at MIT has led to a detailed understanding of a group of molybdenum alkylidenes and alkylidynes which are active olefin and alkyne methathesis catalysts, respectively. Schrock has done much work to demonstrate that metallacyclobutanes are the key intermediate in olefin metathesis, with metallacyclobutadienes being the key intermediate in alkyne methathesis.

Schrock’s work is ongoing with goals of furthering the understanding of metathesis selectivity, developing new catalyst architectures, as well as projects outside of metathesis, such as elucidating the mechanism of dinitrogen fixation and developing single molecule catalysts which form ammonia from dinitrogen, mimicking the activity of nitrogenase enzymes in biology.

Metathesis was already in use before Schrock’s work, mainly for pharmaceuticals and plastics, but the laureate’s work has made the process simpler, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. The discoveries made by Schrock and his colleagues represent great opportunities for producing new molecules artificially through organic synthesis.

Richard Schrock is now known among the chemical science community for creating the class of compounds known as “Schrock carbenes” – catalysts used in olefin metathesis.


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