Professor Robert Grubbs passed away on December 19th, we join his family and friends in their loss.
Grubbs shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Yves Chauvin and Richard R. Schrock “for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.” In olefin metathesis, a catalyst is used to break the bonds of carbon molecules, which can then re-form to create chemical bonds in new ways, producing new compounds with unique properties. The basic technique can be used for the creation of polymers, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals and has broad applications in areas including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, agriculture, and plastics.
Making his chemistry green was one of Grubbs’ goals as he kept working on new catalyst versions and more complex metathesis problems. His work was essential for developing a family of new ruthenium catalysts for the synthesis of custom-built molecules with specialized properties such as polymers of drugs for the treatment of disease.
Born on a farm in Kentucky (USA), he received his PhD from Columbia University in 1968 for his work on organometallic compounds which contain carbon-metal bonds. After his PhD, he started to systematically investigate catalytic processes in organometallic chemistry. This line of work took him from Stanford University to Michigan State University and the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research (Germany) before joining the California Institute of Technology in 1978, where he eventually became the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry in 1990.
Among other honours, Grubbs was the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute (2000), the Arthur C. Cope Award from the American Chemical Society (2002), and the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (2010). Grubbs was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering; a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Chemical Society; an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry; and a foreign academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.