Yale professor of Chemistry Robert H. Crabtree was awarded the 2010 G.M. Kosolapoff Award for his outstanding achievements in the field of inorganic chemistry.
The prestigious Kosolapoff Award is sponsored by Auburn University and the Auburn section of the American Chemical Society. It is awarded each year to honor one scientist for his or her contributions to chemistry or biochemistry research.
For Crabtree, the award stands in recognition of a life dedicated to understanding and applying chemical secrets to better human life.
Since he was an undergraduate, Crabtree has been working with inorganic compound synthesis. He began by studying metals and then designing synthetic catalysts, such as compounds that mimic the nitrogen fixation of certain plantlife.
Today, Crabtree is perhaps best-known for his work in catalysis. Crabtree first began this work in Paris and continued it when he arrived at Yale in 1955. Collaboration with another inorganic chemist, George Morris, from 1977 to 1985 led to the creation of what is now known as the “Crabtree catalyst.” A Crabtree catalyst permits a lower-energy saturated organic compound, such as an alkane, to undergo a reaction that turns it back into an unsaturated compound, such as an alkene or cycloalkene.
In 1990 Crabtree shifted his work’s focus to emphasize catalyst-oriented methods for destroying pollutants. A properly-designed catalyst could, he hypothesizes, make it possible for many modern industrial processes to be carried out using less energy and producing less waste.
In the future, Crabtree plans to continue his work in green chemistry. “You want to do things where there aren’t that many people doing it, so there’s opportunity to do something a bit different,” he says, suggesting that Yale students do the same. It is necessary, he thinks, for such work to continue if humans are to continue to live comfortably in a beautiful, sustainable environment.