Transition metal, lanthanide and actinide chemistry

Small molecule activation

The strong and kinetically stable bonds in small molecules such as methane, dinitrogen, dioxygen and dihydrogen present challenges in their functionalisation to useful materials. One of the strands of our research is to discover new modes of activation using the higher angular momentum functions on transition metals - the d and f functions - to provide low energy pathways for conversion.

Catalytic small molecule activation is the technological answer to many of the risks that currently exist. Catalysis, and in particular, photocatalysis, presents the most accessible and straightforward approach to removing these risks.

Transition metal systems for small molecule activation

Economically important small molecules are typically strongly bound and unreactive under ambient conditions; reaction conditions are usually strenuous and thus necessarily energetically inefficient. Transition metals can mediate small molecule transformations, whether stoichiometric or catalytic, by supplying low energy pathways by which the necessary bond scission and formation processes can take place.

In general, scission of a chemical bond may be achieved in two ways: through removal of bonding density, the 'acidic' route, or through population of the antibonding orbitals - the 'basic' route. We explore both of these extrema with carefully designed transition metal systems, in order to discover new types of reactivity in both applied and academic contexts.

Skills that students develop when working in this area in the group include inert atmosphere synthetic methods, detailed spectroscopic analysis using primarily NMR spectroscopy, in situ infrared spectroscopy and structural investigations using crystallography either in the Department or using user facilities in the UK, US and Europe. Synthetic and mechanistic results are also augmented with computational work where appropriate. Recent collaborators in this area include Prof. Linda H. Doerrer (Boston University), Prof. Jennifer C. Green (Oxford), Prof. Laurent Maron (Toulouse) and Dr. Hazel Cox (Sussex).