Geoffrey Wilkinson

Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson
Born (1921-07-14)14 July 1921
Todmorden, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 26 September 1996(1996-09-26) (aged 75)
London, England
Nationality British
Fields Inorganic chemistry
Alma mater Imperial College London
Doctoral advisor Henry Vincent Aird Briscoe
Known for Homogeneous transition metal catalysis
Notable awards

Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson FRS[1] (14 July 1921 26 September 1996) was a Nobel laureate English chemist who pioneered inorganic chemistry and homogeneous transition metal catalysis.[2]

Education and early life

Wilkinson was born at Springside, Todmorden, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, Henry Wilkinson,[3] was a master house painter and decorator; his mother, Ruth,[3] worked in a local cotton mill. One of his uncles, an organist and choirmaster, had married into a family that owned a small chemical company making Epsom and Glauber's salts for the pharmaceutical industry; this is where he first developed an interest in chemistry.

He was educated at the local council primary school and, after winning a County Scholarship in 1932, went to Todmorden Grammar School. His physics teacher there, Luke Sutcliffe, had also taught Sir John Cockcroft, who received a Nobel Prize for "splitting the atom".

In 1939 he obtained a Royal Scholarship for study at Imperial College London, from where he graduated in 1941.

Career and research

In 1942 Professor Friedrich Paneth was recruiting young chemists for the nuclear energy project. Wilkinson joined and was sent out to Canada, where he stayed in Montreal and later Chalk River Laboratories until he could leave in 1946. For the next four years he worked with Professor Glenn T. Seaborg at University of California, Berkeley, mostly on nuclear taxonomy.[4] He then became a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and began to return to his first interest as a student - transition metal complexes of ligands such as carbon monoxide and olefins.

He was at Harvard University from September 1951 until he returned to England in December 1955, with a sabbatical break of nine months in Copenhagen. At Harvard, he still did some nuclear work on excitation functions for protons in cobalt, but had already begun to work on olefin complexes.

In June 1955 he was appointed to the chair of Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College London, and from then on worked almost entirely on the complexes of transition metals.

Structure of ferrocene Fe(C5H5)2

Wilkinson is well known for his development of Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3, and for the discovery of the structure of ferrocene. Wilkinson's catalyst is used industrially in the hydrogenation of alkenes to alkanes.[5][6]

Awards and honours

Wilkinson received many awards, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1973 for his work on "organometallic compounds" (with Ernst Otto Fischer). He is also well known for writing, with his former doctoral student F. Albert Cotton, "Advanced Inorganic Chemistry", often referred to simply as "Cotton and Wilkinson", one of the standard inorganic chemistry textbooks.[7]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1965.[1] In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Bath. Imperial College London named a new hall of residence after him, which opened in October 2009.

Personal life

Wilkinson was married and the father to two daughters.


  1. 1 2 3 Green, M. L. H.; Griffith, W. P. (2000). "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson. 14 July 1921 -- 26 September 1996: Elected 18 March 1965". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 46: 593. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0103.
  2. "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson 1921−1996 IN MEMORIAM". Inorganic Chemistry. 35 (26): 7463–7464. 1996. doi:10.1021/ic961299i.
  3. 1 2 daughter, pernille wilkinson
  5. Jardine, F.H. (1996). "The Contributions of Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, F.R.S., (1921–1996) to Rhodium Chemistry". Rhodium Express. 16: 4–10. ISSN 0869-7876.
  6. Osborn, J. A.; Jardine, F. H.; Young, J. F.; Wilkinson, G. (1966). "The Preparation and Properties of Tris(triphenylphosphine)halogenorhodium(I) and Some Reactions Thereof Including Catalytic Homogeneous Hydrogenation of Olefins and Acetylenes and Their Derivatives". Journal of the Chemical Society A: 1711–1732. doi:10.1039/J19660001711.
  7. Cotton, Frank Albert; Wilkinson, Geoffrey; Murillo, Carlos A. (1999). Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. p. 1355. ISBN 9780471199571.

External links

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