The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005

Nature’s perfume

Female insects use pheromones – organic compounds – to attract males for reproduction. Spreading artificial pheromones makes it difficult for the males to find the females. In this way, insect damage to forests and fruit, for example, is reduced. The pheromone below, which is a mixture of two different compounds, was synthesised with Grubbs’ catalyst. This catalyst is now used widely in organic synthesis.

In parallel with Schrock’s work, Robert Grubbs developed catalysts with ruthenium as the active metal. In 1992 he showed that these catalyst molecules had some advantages over the earlier ones. Among other things, they were stable in air, could be used in the presence of alcohols, water and carboxylic acids, and showed greater selectivity – although at the price of lower reactivity than Schrock’s catalysts. The general applicability of Grubbs’ catalysts has led to a rapid spread throughout the world – they can be found in practically every organic laboratory nowadays.


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