NSF awards grant of $2.5 million to UGA for study of next-generation aromatic molecules

August 29, 2003

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $2.5 million during a five-year period to the University of Georgia for the study of important compounds called aromatics - structures with closed circuits of mobile electrons that make them relatively stable.

"This is a significant grant from the National Science Foundation, and continues the very strong momentum in UGA's research program," said President Michael F. Adams. "Research funding increased by more than 12 percent last year, and we look forward to another year of significant support for the work of our faculty."

The grant was awarded to UGA chemists Gregory H. Robinson, R. Bruce King, Henry F. Schaeffer III, Paul von Ragué Schleyer and Peter R. Schreiner.

"Basically, aromatic molecules are involved in any process or application that utilizes chemistry," explained Robinson, who is a Distinguished Research Professor in the chemistry department. "This would span the spectrum from the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to semiconductors to computer circuits to the dark matter of deep space. Wherever one finds chemistry, one also finds aromatic molecules. This is due, in part, to the great stability of aromatic substances (and to their special electronic properties).

"Although coined in the 19th century, the terms aromatic and aromaticity are now among the most widely used in the whole of science," continued Robinson. "As compelling evidence of the enduring and increasing importance of aromaticity, the scientific literature reveals more 'aromatic' citations in the last decade than AIDS. This research grant is to fund research aimed at 'next generation aromatics.'"

The scientists' interdisciplinary collaboration is aimed at significantly expanding the current understanding of the recently discovered phenomenon known as "metalloaromaticity."

Aromatic compounds have a special stability and properties because of a closed loop of electrons. Not all molecules with ring structures are aromatic. The best-known aromatic compound is probably benzene. Though the term "aromaticity" in the past did generally refer to an odor from these compounds, not all aromatic molecules have an odor. The term actually refers to chemical behavior, not scent or odor.

"The reason there has been such a huge number of scientific citations is due in large measure to the discovery, both by experiment and computation, of fascinating new classes of aromatics," said Robinson. A number of these discoveries were made by these researchers at UGA.

The investigators in the project have diverse yet complimentary backgrounds in organic, inorganic, organometallic, synthetic, computational and theoretical chemistry. Each, however, has well-documented expertise concerning the concept of aromaticity. To study next-generation aromatic species, the researchers will explore the possibilities of extending aromatic chemistry to other elements including lead, tin, gallium and indium. Aromaticity is a characteristic that has many uses in industry, including in properties of superconductivity.

This grant from the NSF is under its Collaborative Research in Chemistry program.

University of Georgia

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