Sunlight is a massive and readily available source of energy, yet it remains largely untapped by the chemical industry. A major challenge of photochemistry is that relaxation of photo-excited species often outcompetes pathways for productive chemical transformations. We are investigating methods to increase excited-state lifetimes, with the goal of accessing photo-excited species that can intermolecularly react with substrates. In this way, we hope to develop an arsenal of compounds capable of catalyzing the transformation of strong bonds into traditional functional groups using solar energy.

Despite their natural abundance, first-row transition metals are underemployed as catalysts in organic synthesis. An often-cited reason for the dearth of such catalysts is that the two-electron reactivity common to organic compounds is best achieved using precious metals, whereas first-row metals often prefer less-selective one-electron (radical) processes. We are developing ligands that can respond to changes in the metal oxidation state to favor two-electron processes with first-row metals. Using these ligands, we hope to develop a toolbox of transformations that utilize earth-abundant metals as catalysts for organic synthesis.

Late transition-metal complexes multiply bonded to main-group ligands (e.g. C, N, O) are either rare or entirely unknown. Where they do exist, they are often only fleeting intermediates. Despite their instability, these late-metal species play a prominent role in biology, homogeneous catalysis, and energy research. We are interested in the electronic structure and reactivity of late transition-metal species multiply bonded to 2p elements. Specifically, we seek to develop a greater understanding of the factors governing their stability, reactivity, and selectivity, with the goal of developing new catalysts for atom- and group-transfer reactions.