HW #1 – Alan’s responses

Student responses were excellent across the board. There was an interesting imbalance in the amount of chemical detail between the questions (tended to be low on detail) and the answers (considerably more detail). Work on the question side. When you insert experimental details and/or data into your question, you are giving your subject a much better idea what interests you and how they should respond.

Designing a better homework assignment: I should have asked you to either give me your partner’s name (some of you did), or even better, write down the questions that you asked your partner so that my comments regarding questions could be placed on the appropriate homework assignment.

Voting (5 votes possible): The top questions were Ib (3 votes), IIc&d (2 votes each), IIIa (4 votes), IVb (4 votes). Here are my responses (these are short; feel free to stop by my office with follow-up questions):

  • Ib – Was there a big discovery in the field of organometallic chemistry that pushed you to enter this field, or was it a gradual process? I began attending the weekly chemistry research seminars at Caltech during my junior year, and continued this habit into my senior year. At least three of the visitors to campus during my senior year (Katz, Casey, and maybe Schrock?) described investigations of the mechanism of the olefin metathesis reaction. I decided that this must be a pretty big deal and so it makes sense that this is what I worked on for my doctoral dissertation. But, to tell the truth, I didn’t really head off to graduate school thinking, “I’m going to be an organometallic chemist.” It was more of a case of several things falling into place together at the same time.
  • IIc – When funding gets cut for research, does someone immediately see a decline in the availability of materials for lab work? Or does this kick in later? On a more extreme note, could a lab have to close down? If a lab’s research is supported by external research grants than the lab is briefly protected because grants typically run for three years. The problem for the lab appears when the lead researcher (known as the ‘principal investigator’ or PI) tries to get new grants. It may not be possible to get grants to support further research in the lab’s area of expertise, and it is often a struggle to develop new areas of expertise.
  • IIIa – How did the 12 principles of green chemistry help organometallic chemistry? Probably the single most important green principle from the standpoint of organometallic chemistry is #9 which states that catalytic reactions are more efficient and less wasteful than stoichiometric reactions. Of course, all reactions are necessarily stoichiometric so the real question is whether the reaction (either version) relies on reagents that have objectionable properties (large # atoms, toxic components, etc.). If a reagent like this is needed, it is preferable to use it in small amounts, i.e., as a catalyst.
  • IVb – Dr. Shusterman, you mentioned that the tasks of green chemistry feature prominently in your research. Can you describe how they were incorporated into your research? In 2003 I began a year-long sabbatical devoted to learning more green chemistry. This came about the year before my sabbatical. I happened to attend a lecture that Prof. Terry Collins (Carnegie-Mellon U) had given at the spring ACS meeting and it was the most inspiring lecture that I had ever heard an academic chemist give. I thought to myself, “if I can do something, anything, in this area, it will be a good use of my time,” so I put together a sabbatical proposal to learn more about green chemistry. I spent the year attending conferences, workshops (U. Oregon runs one of the best), and visiting labs, especially the Collins lab and Prof. Joan Brenneke’s lab at Notre Dame. Collins generously allowed me and my student assistants to work on the synthesis of a new TAML (TAML = tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand) which kept us occupied for several years.