Discovery Still Has Impact 20 Years Later

Dr. Anthony J. Arduengo, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, made a discovery more than 20 years ago that changed the way chemists understand highly reactive substances known as carbenes. As he continues his research, Arduengo’s breakthrough continues to influence some of the most cutting edge research being done today.

Chemists once viewed carbenes as highly reactive, transient species that were important intermediates in some reactions. Prior to Arduengo’s discovery of an isolable carbine known as N-heterocyclic (NHC), scientists could only predict that carbenes could be stabilized by making structural modifications.

At the time of the discovery, Arduegno was a researcher at DuPont. In 1999, he joined the faculty in the College’s Department of Chemistry. He also has a joint research appointment with the Technical University of Braunschweig, in Germany.

Arduegno says the transition back into academia has allowed him to continue discovery-driven applied research on carbenes. Some of his latest work includes developing modified versions of NHC and using NHCs for different reactions.

His foray into stable carbenes has been overwhelmingly gratifying, said Arduegno.

“I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the world’s luminary scientific figures and help many hardworking young scientists in my group,” he said. “As a trumpet player, I can tell you that one’s musical performance improves with the quality of the musicians with whom you associate and perform. This intellectual concert enhancement holds true among chemists.”

He’s also thrilled that many chemists have picked up on and found success with NHCs. “It’s invigorating to know you’ve made a contribution that will leave a mark,” Arduengo says. “As a scientist, that is something we all hope for I think, to push the science forward and give others tools to work with so they can go even further.”