Plastics enable our quality of life in everything from food preservation to disposable facemasks. Since 1950, over 9 billion tons of plastics have been synthesized. Where have they gone? Sadly, almost all of this plastic is still with us today and is now found just about everywhere on Earth from the deepest oceans to mountaintops. While a kneejerk reaction may to ban plastic, a more thoughtful analysis reveals a more nuanced strategy is needed. My lecture will focus on the fundamental chemistry and catalysis required to enable a sustainable plastics age. One area of emphasis will be on the preparation of new polymer microstructures prepared from abundant hydrocarbon building blocks such as butadiene are chemically recyclable – re-exposure to the iron catalyst reverts the plastic to pristine monomer. The synthesis and properties of this new cycloadditon polymer and materials derived from it will be presented. A second area of emphasis is the integration of polymerization methods to prepare polyolefins from monomers derived from CO2. The implications of these catalytic reactions on a new, responsible hydrocarbon future will be presented.
Paul Chirik (born in 1973) earned a B.S. degree in 1995 from Virginia Tech, conducting undergraduate research with Professor Joseph Merola studying aqueous iridium chemistry. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in 2000 with Professor John Bercaw at California Institute of Technology with a focus on metallocene-catalyzed olefin polymerization. After a postdoctoral appointment with Professor Christopher Cummins at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he began his independent career in 2001 at Cornell University. In 2011, Professor Chirik and his research group moved to Princeton University, where he was named the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry. His teaching and research have been recognized with a, a 2009 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, a 2016 U.S. Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, the 2020 Linus Pauling Medal and the 2021 Gabor Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of Organometallics since 2015. The Chirik group focuses on developing catalysts using base metals such as iron, cobalt, nickel, and molybdenum to discover new reactions that drive more sustainable chemistry. Projects include electronic structure studies, asymmetric alkene hydrogenation, hydrogen isotope exchange, C–H functionalization, and alkene cycloaddition.