Nobel Laureate Lectures at UA

Dr. Robert H. Grubbs won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his ground-breaking research in developing new compounds with commercial applications. This April, Grubbs visited with students and faculty in the Department of Chemistry.

Grubbs gave a public lecture, “Bugs, Windmills, and Victoria’s Secret: Fundamental Science to Commercial Products,” on Friday, April 19, 2013, at 3:30 p.m. in 1004 Shelby Hall on the UA campus.

Grubb’s visit was the 2013 Arduengo Lecture in Physical Organic and Main Group Element Chemistry and part of the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Board Nobel Lectureship Series.

Grubbs, the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, is known for his work in alkene metathesis, a reaction which allows chemists to selectively break certain bonds in molecules and then reassemble the pieces into new molecules. In this way, a molecule can be custom-built with specialized properties. Commercial applications of this method include more efficient preparations of drugs for the treatment of disease and better electrical conducting properties for specialized plastics.

In 1978, Grubbs joined the California Institute of Technology where he began his independent research career by investigating mechanisms of the then-obscure reaction called olefin metathesis, which had been reported separately by Giulio Natta (1963 Nobel Prize) and researchers at DuPont and Phillips Petroleum. His original research eventually led to commercialization of chemical reactions that provided for more durable baseball bats, ballistic shields, and bathroom fixtures and to the commercial preparation of pharmaceuticals and applications in medical diagnostics and materials science.

In addition, Grubbs’ technology enabled the conversion of bulk biorenewable organic compounds into fuels and commodity chemicals. He is now pioneering clever applications of olefin metathesis reactions. His recent investigations include the synthesis of insect pheromones as environmentally friendly pest control agents, the construction of polymeric vapor sensing devices, the preparations of customized lenses and treatments for various ocular disorders, biomedical adhesives and thin films, and drug delivery and molecular imaging agents.

A catalyst developed by Grubbs featured characteristics that were similar to those first prepared by Dr. Anthony J. “Bo” Arduengo III, Saxon Professor of Chemistry at UA. On the faculty of the Department of Chemistry since 1999, Arduengo continues to pioneer research in the areas of main group element chemistry, physical and synthetic organic chemistry, unusual valence structures, carbenes, and materials chemistry. These discoveries by both Grubbs and Arduengo have been commercialized and manufacturers have adopted the technologies for a wide range of practical applications.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 Desktop News. View original article.