Rasika Dias, distinguished professor and chairman of the UT Arlington Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will use a new $450,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop new chemical processes and technologies based on a better understanding of the way that metals such as gold, silver, mercury and zinc bind with organic compounds for chemical reactions.
The three-year project involves reactions used widely in industry and research laboratories. Dias is the principal investigator.
Dias’ work will explore the interaction between six metals found in the right section of the Periodic Table of Elements’ d-block and what are called pi-acid ligands, which include familiar organic compounds like carbon monoxide, ethylene, acetylene and the related olefins and alkynes. These carbon based molecules bind to metal through interaction of their electrons, becoming what is known scientifically as ligands.
In many cases, the combination of a specific d-block element and pi-acid ligands creates a situation favorable for chemical reactions with molecules like oxygen, hydrogen chloride, and even water. The metals essentially act as a catalyst in the creation of new products.
These reactions can create valuable industrial chemicals such as ethylene oxide, chloroethene and alcohols. Ethylene oxide is used in producing solvents, textiles, detergents, adhesives and pharmaceuticals. Chlorethene is used to make polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a widely used plastic. In other instances, metals like gold provide a way to remove harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide by converting it to carbon dioxide through an oxidation process.
“What we are trying to do is to understand how these metals act as catalysts and create a lower energy pathway for these reactions to occur. If we can understand that, we can control the reaction to obtain better product yields under milder conditions or to eliminate the formation of unnecessary by-products,” Dias said. “We may even find a way to direct reactions to a completely new pathway leading to even more useful products and molecules. Overall, through this work, we hope to create more energy efficient, sustainable and selective processes and develop new technology.”
Dias will study the bonding and chemistry of zinc, copper, cadmium, silver,