MIT chemist wins national award for catalyst research

August 20, 2001

Chemist Richard R. Schrock of Winchester, Mass., will be honored August 28 by the world's largest scientific society discovering more efficient ways to make molecules such as biological compounds and even drugs. He will receive the 2001 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Chicago.

"In general, I design catalysts for reactions," began Schrock, who is Frederick G. Keyes professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Catalysts are the highly skilled construction workers of chemistry, assembling one molecule after another without themselves being consumed in the reaction.

Schrock works in particular with catalysts based on transition metals such as molybdenum and zirconium. Their electrons have an unusual configuration, and thus catalysts based on transition metals can make unusual compounds.

The chemist is best known for developing catalysts that both explained and made practical a reaction discovered 50 years ago. His molybdenum-based complexes help chemists tailor-make mimics of molecules from nature, for example, which may exhibit antibiotic, anticancer or other pharmaceutical promise. His catalysts "can do this so simply -- [the reactions are] fast, clean, with no byproducts or residue," Schrock said.

Without them, "our syntheses would be far longer and embarrassingly inefficient," wrote a colleague to support his nomination for the award. "It would be difficult to identify another organometallic chemist who has more profoundly influenced the field of organic chemistry in the past two decades."

Schrock said he chose chemistry as a career because he always liked building things. "My father was a cabinetmaker, and when I was young I started making things with wood," he remembered. "Now I make things with molecules."
Schrock received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Riverside, in 1967 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1971. He is a member of the ACS division of inorganic chemistry.

The ACS Board of Directors established the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1984 to recognize excellence in organic chemistry. Under the terms of the prominent MIT chemist's will, each of 10 such awards consists of a $5,000 prize and $40,000 research grant.

American Chemical Society

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