The National Science Foundation, along with the National Science Foundation of China, and the German Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, have recently awarded a multi-national group, including Webster Santos, associate professor and Blackwood Junior Faculty Fellow of Life Sciences in chemistry, a three year grant worth $950,000 to examine the reactivity and application of copper boryl complexes.

The research to develop novel catalyst systems that replace rare, expensive, and toxic transition metal catalysts, with earth abundant metals such as copper, is being conducted in collaboration with Todd Marder, Universitat Wurzburg, Germany, and Yao Fu, University of Science and Technology, China. The three groups will combine their separate areas of expertise to provide more sustainable, synthetic methods for the production of commodity chemicals.

Copper boryl complexes install boron in molecules, making them good intermediates to generate more elaborate chemicals used in medicine, electronics, and other materials. These organoboron compounds provide the capability to make bond formations that are otherwise impossible to achieve.

“These complexes can also capture carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, so methods that use carbon dioxide as a reagent to make commodity chemicals are extremely valuable,” Santos said.

Santos received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. His postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University from 2002 to 2006 was funded by a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health.