How chemists interact with and ultimately use the elements on the Periodic Table is one of the primary sustainability challenges for the 21st century. Applications ranging from alternative energy to catalysis need to deploy Earth-abundant elements such as iron rather than terrestrially rare ones such as rhodium that have a large environmental footprint associated with mining and purification. Our research group is exploring the new chemistry enabled by catalysis with a range of Earth-abundant transition metals. At the core of this challenge is how electrons flow in chemical reactions as compared to precious metals. By using a combination of redox-active ligands, those that undergo reversible electron transfer with a transition metal, or strong-field chelate ligands to surpress deleterious radical chemistry, unique transformations have been identified. The strong-field approach has found application in the asymmetric hydrogenation of alkenes with activity, enantioselectivity, and a solvent profile (methanol vs. dichloromethane) superior to state-of-the-art rhodium catalysts. This approach has also been applied to the C(sp2)-H borylation of alkenes with unique site selectivity that is distinct from precious metals and opens new, streamlined pathways to active pharmaceutical ingredients. The weak-field approach employing redox-active ligands has opened new cycloaddition pathways for the upgrading of abundant hydrocarbons. Using tridentate ligands, selective [2+2] alkene-alkene cycloadditions to cyclobutanes has been realized, and with bidentate chelates a [4+4] pathway has been discovered. My lecture will focus on the development and discovery of these catalysts and their impact on contemporary sustainability challenges.
Paul J. Chirik was born outside of Philadelphia, PA, and obtained his B.S. degree from Virginia Tech in 1995. During that time, he began his career in organometallic chemistry conducting undergraduate research with Professor Joseph S. Merola. Chirik completed his Ph.D. in 2000 at Caltech working with John Bercaw understanding fundamental transformations relevant to group 4 metallocene catalyzed alkene polymerization. After a brief postdoctoral appointment with Christopher C. Cummins at MIT, he began his independent career at Cornell University. While in Ithaca, Chirik was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006 and was named the Peter J. W. Debye Professor of Chemistry in 2009. In 2011, he and his research group moved to Princeton University, where he is currently the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry.
Chirik leads an international research team with collaborations in the chemical industry focused on applications ranging from chemically recyclable plastics to new catalysts for drug discovery and manufacture. In 2015, was named Editor-in-Chief of Organometallics. Chirik and his colleagues have authored more than 200 publications and patents and his research applies organometallic chemistry to problems in sustainable chemistry and catalysis. He is currently the Associate Chair in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton and member of the leadership team of the Princeton Catalysis Initiative. Away from chemistry, Chirik enjoys spending time with his daughters, is a supporter of the Princeton Girl Choir, the Princeton Soccer Association, and a devoted fan of both the Princeton University Women’s Basketball and Soccer teams.