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Nobel Chemist Speaks at Georgetown

October 14, 2009 – In the same week the 2009 Nobel Prize winners were being announced, students, faculty and staff filled the Reiss Science Building auditorium Oct. 8 to hear a lecture by 2005 Nobel Laureate Richard Schrock, whose work has advanced “green chemistry.”

Schrock, the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Yves Chauvin and Robert Grubbs, for his work in olefin metathesis, the breaking and new pairings of carbon double bonds. Chemists liken the process to a dance in which couples change partners.

Chemists daily use metathesis, mainly to develop pharmaceuticals and advanced plastic materials. As the first person to develop a more efficient catalyst for metathesis process in 1990, Schrock created an environmentally friendly production method that reduces hazardous waste, according to the Nobel Prize committee.

“You have to be lucky sometimes,” Schrock said of his accomplishments. “I’ve been lucky in my life.”

Learning from a Laureate

Schrock came to Georgetown as this year’s chemistry Graduate Student Invited Lecturer. His lecture, “Thousands of Catalysts for Olefin Metathesis: Efficiency, Longevity and Asymmetry at the Metal,” focused on Schrock’s continued work with metathesis.

During the hourlong lecture, Schrock presented modifications to the basic chemical structure of the metathesis catalyst. The modifications accelerate reaction rates and increase control over the orientation of organic molecules as they are brought together, Schrock said.

“These brand new developments open important new avenues for the extremely valuable alkene metathesis reaction. They are certain to have major impact in the preparation of organic molecules with wide-ranging applications from shortening the synthesis of some pharmaceuticals to enabling new types of organic materials with designer properties,” said Georgetown chemistry professor Tim Warren, who received his doctoral training in Schrock’s lab.

In addition to hearing about new advances in the field, the chemistry seminar allows students to interact with experts in and out of the classroom, said Travis Hall, administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry.

“When the lecturer is on campus, graduate students spend a substantial portion of the day with the invited speaker, sharing their research with him or her,” he added.

Ray Gephart (G’11), president of the Graduate Student Organization of Chemists, said Georgetown students from undergraduates to doctoral candidates learned a lot from Schrock’s visit.

“Professor Schrock did a good job of teaching all of us about his chemistry in terms that most of the audience could understand, but not too basic that the more experienced chemists wouldn’t get anything out of it,” Gephart said. “… His research has proven to be very useful to both the chemistry community as well as the world as a whole.”

Related Information

  • Department of Chemistry

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