A UT Arlington professor 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
A figure shows a molecule containing gold bonded to ethylene stabilized by a supporting ligand.
The three-year project involves
reactions used widely in industry and research laboratories. The principal
investigator is Rasika Dias, distinguished professor and chairman of The
University of Texas at Arlington Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
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
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, mercury and gold with alkene and
alkyne compounds and carbon monoxide. The first phase of the lab’s work will
involve getting a better understanding of the electronic structure - how
electrons are exchanged, distributed and shared between the metal and the
ligand. They will also observe the structural effects of the interactions.
Some of the metals Dias is working with
also facilitate the reaction of pi-acid molecules with each other, such as
alkenes reacting with alkynes, leading to very useful and yet more complicated
compounds used in pharmaceutical industry.
Dias’ lab specializes in stabilizing
usually reactive or unstable molecules so that they are stable enough to
examine using a method called X-ray crystallography.
“Our dream is to find efficient ways of
breaking and making bonds in and between molecules selectively to get what we
want,” he said.
Dias’ team has already experienced
noted success, publishing x-ray crystal structures that revealed new
information about compounds featuring gold-ethylene and gold-carbon monoxide
bonds in journals such as Angewandte
Chemie-International Edition, Organometallics, and Inorganic Chemistry, which
is based upon work supported by the prior National Science Foundation Grant
"Dr. Dias is focused on fueling advances in basic
science that will have real effects on the industrial processes we count on
each day," Pamela Jansma, dean of the UT Arlington College of Science
said. "His previous success in the field has earned him the National
Science Foundation's continuous support in unraveling complicated chemistry
Dias new grant will also fund outreach and
mentoring for high school students and teachers, as well as strengthening
collaborative relationships with foreign universities.
The University of Texas at Arlington is
a comprehensive institution of about 33,300 students and more than 2,200
faculty members in the heart of North Texas. It is the second largest school in
The University of Texas System. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.