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Metal catalysts are used in a wide range of industrial processes to synthesise chemical products such as materials and pharmaceuticals. The nature of the metal is key to its reactivity and therefore which reactions it will catalyse most successfully. For example, early and late transition metals behave differently due to their differing size and charge density. Early transition metals are smaller, more charge dense have bonding characterised by electrostatic interactions whereas late transition metals are larger and more diffuse, which leads to higher covalency in their bonding and reactivity.

My research involves the combination of early and late transition metals into heterobimetallic complexes. The resultant complexes allow the different metals to cooperatively activate substrates and perform reactions that would not be possible by the individual metals.

These heterobimetallic compounds are highly reactive. We use small ligands to support the metals, which allows the substrates to easily access the metal centres, but also means the metals are likely to react with one another and become deactivated. To avoid such reactions, we use Surface Organometallic Chemistry (SOMC) to immobilise the complexes on silica surfaces. This allows us to isolate the compounds so they cannot react with each other. As such, we can synthesise metal complexes that would be unstable in solution, thereby giving us access to highly active compounds for use as catalysts.

Recent results within the research group have included the synthesis of heterobimetallic complexes featuring early transition metal tantalum and late transition metal iridium. These catalysts were immobilised on silica surfaces and shown to be active in C–H activation reactions, which are highly challenging. Such reactions are desirable in the pharmaceutical industry for the late-stage functionalisation or isotopic labelling of compounds. Similarly, C–H activation of small molecules such as methane can be used to add significant value and synthesise fuels, fine or bulk chemicals.

My work focuses on investigating the selectivity of this catalysis and expanding its scope to new substrates. Our goal is to make highly active catalysts that can use to target the activation of specific C–H bonds in a complex molecule. Further to this, I am investigating the effect of altering the metals used in these heterobimetallic complexes and how this alters the bonding and catalytic capabilities of the resultant materials.


Twitter: @RosalynFalconer




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