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Overview

Our research program is broadly focused on the development of transition metal catalysts for applications in organic synthesis and alternative energy. Due to the importance of complex organic molecules in biology, medicine, agrochemical and material science, we are developing catalytic methods that allow high-value organic molecules to be prepared from inexpensive and abundant starting materials. We are particularly interested in inventing new reactions for the stereocontrolled introduction of heteroatoms, such as nitrogen, in rapid fashion. We are also employing principles of catalyst design and organometallic synthesis to prepare novel complexes for use as catalysts in alternative fuel preparation and energy storage. Our current efforts lie in exploring new methods for the reduction of carbon dioxide to liquid organic molecules, such as methanol, that can readily be used as fuels. Such chemistry, when combined with photovoltaic solar energy, is a potential key step in developing viable carbon-neutral fuel cycles to combat global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

      In order to accomplish this research, we draw on techniques from a number of subdisciplines including synthetic organic, synthetic inorganic, electro- and physical organometallic chemistry. In addition, we routinely rely on the use of modern computational techniques (such as Density Functional Theory, DFT) both to guide catalyst design and to understand observed phenomena. This blending of techniques provides a dynamic training environment that will prepare coworkers to tackle numerous scientific challenges after completing studies in our lab.

Current Projects

Bimetallic Complexes for Remote Substrate-Directed Catalysis.           Substrate-directed catalysis is a powerful strategy to effect both unique reactivity and high selectivity in synthetic organic chemistry. Most small molecule catalysts, however, contain only a single reactive site, which inherently limits (by proximity) the sites on a substrate molecule that can undergo reaction in substrate-directed catalysis. We are investigating new classes of bimetallic and bifunctional catalysts, which we anticipate will greatly expand the scope of substrate-directed reactions and lead to new avenues of reactivity not previously observed with single-site catalysts.
bimetallic

New Methods for the Preparation of a-Chiral Amines.        a-Chiral amines are an important class of molecules encompassing a vast number of bioactive compounds and many pharmaceuticals. In addition to their use in biology, chiral amines are used as agrochemicals, as ligands for transition metals, and as resolving agents in the synthesis of fine chemicals. We are currently investigating several new enantioselective routes to this important class of compounds based upon new transition-metal catalyzed reactions.

amines

Electrocatalysts for the Reduction of CO2 to Methanol.      Solar energy is widely viewed as the only viable source for clean, carbon-neutral energy to meet our global needs in the coming years. Wide-scale use of solar energy, however, requires the availability of efficient, scalable energy storage; on a global scale this means developing methods to store solar energy in the form of carbon-neutral chemical fuels. We are currently investigating novel transition metal catalysts for the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to methanol, a highly storable, energy-rich fuel. By deriving methanol from CO2, upon combustion and release of energy, no net CO2 is produced – making the overall process carbon-neutral. When photovoltaic energy (from solar cells) is used to drive the cycle, and the reaction is coupled to water oxidation as the source of protons, the overall cycle constitutes a potentially highly effective means to store solar energy.

energy