Robert H. Grubbs

Robert H. Grubbs

AIC Gold Medal recipient, 2010
Born (1942-02-27) February 27, 1942
Marshall County, Kentucky, United States
Nationality United States
Fields Organic chemistry
Institutions California Institute of Technology
Alma mater
Doctoral students

Timothy M. Swager

Melanie Sanford
Known for Catalysts for olefin metathesis in organic synthesis
Notable awards
Spouse Helen O'Kane-Grubbs

Robert Howard Grubbs (born February 27, 1942) is an American chemist and the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.[2] He was a co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on olefin metathesis.[3] He is a co-founder of Materia, a startup to produce catalysts.

Early life and education

Grubbs was born on February 27, 1942, on a farm in Marshall County, Kentucky, midway between Possum Trot and Calvert City.[4][5] His parents were Howard and Faye Grubbs.[4] Faye Grubbs was a schoolteacher. After serving in World War II, the family moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where Howard Grubbs trained as a diesel mechanic, and Robert Grubbs attended Paducah Tilghman High School.[4][5]

At the University of Florida, Robert Grubbs initially intended to study agriculture. However, he was convinced by professor Merle A. Battiste to switch to organic chemistry.[6] Working with Battiste, Grubbs became interested in how chemical reactions occur.[5] He received his B.S. in 1963 and M.S. in 1965 from the University of Florida.[6]

Next, Grubbs attended Columbia University, where he worked with Ronald Breslow on the antiaromaticity of cyclobutadiene. This work aroused his interest in metals and organometallic compounds which contain carbon-metal bonds. Grubbs received his Ph.D. in 1968.[5]


Grubbs worked with James Collman at Stanford University as a National Institutes of Health fellow during 1968-1969. With Collman, he began to systematically investigate catalytic processes in organometallic chemistry, a relatively new area of research.[5]

In 1969, Grubbs was then appointed to the faculty of Michigan State University, where he began his work on olefin metathesis. Harold Hart, Gerasimos J. Karabatsos, Gene LeGoff, Don Farnum, Bill Reusch and Pete Wagner served as his early mentors at MSU.[5] He was an assistant professor from 1969 to 1973, and an associate professor from 1973 to 1978.[7] He received an Sloan Fellowship for 1974–1976.[8] In 1975, he went to the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim, Germany on a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.[9]

In 1978 Grubbs moved to California Institute of Technology as a professor of chemistry. As of 1990 he became the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry.[10][11]


Grubbs' main research interests are in organometallic chemistry and synthetic chemistry, particularly the development of novel catalysts for olefin metathesis. In olefin metathesis, a catalyst is used to break the bonds of carbon molecules, which can then re-form to create chemical bonds in new ways, producing new compounds with unique properties.[6][12] The basic technique can be used for creation of polymers, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals[13] and has broad applications in areas including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, agriculture, and plastics.[6]

Grubbs has been instrumental in developing a family of ruthenium catalysts including Grubbs' catalyst for olefin metathesis.[14] He has studied olefin transformations for ring-closing metathesis (RCM),[15] cross-metathesis reaction (CMR),[16] and ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) with cyclic olefins such as norbornene.[17] He has also contributed to the development of "living polymerization", in which the termination ability of a polymerization reaction is removed. The polymer will continue to replicate until a quenching agent is presented.[18]

The Grubbs group successfully polymerized the 7-oxo norbornene derivative using ruthenium trichloride, osmium trichloride as well as tungsten alkylidenes.[19] They identified a Ru(II) carbene as an effective metal center and in 1992 published the first well-defined, ruthenium-based olefin metathesis catalyst, (PPh3)2Cl2Ru=CHCH=CPh2:[17]

The corresponding tricyclohexylphosphine complex (PCy3)2Cl2Ru=CHCH=CPh2 was also shown to be active.[20] This work culminated in the now commercially available 1st generation Grubbs catalyst in 1995.[21][22][23] Second generation catalysts have been developed as well.[24][25]

Ruthenium is stable in air and has higher selectivity and lower reactivity than molybdenum, the most promising of the previously discovered catalysts. In addition, Grubbs took a green chemistry approach to catalysis that reduced the potential to create hazardous waste. Grubbs' catalyst has become a standard for general metathesis applications in ordinary laboratories.[2][14][24]

By controlling the catalyst used, it becomes possible to synthesize polymers with specialized structures and functional capabilities, including cyclic olefins, alternating copolymers, and multiblock copolymers.[12] Using catalysts allows chemists to speed up chemical transformations and to lower the cost of what were previously complicated multi-step industrial processes.[26]

Industry activities

Both first and second generation Grubbs catalysts are commercially available from Materia, a startup company that Grubbs co-founded with Mike Giardello in Pasadena, California in 1998.[21][26][27] Materia has been able to obtain exclusive rights to manufacture many of the known olefin catalysts.[28] Under Giardello, Materia was able to sell their catalysts through Sigma-Aldrich's chemicals catalogue. Sigma-Aldrich became their exclusive worldwide provider.[26][29] In 2008, Materia partnered with Cargill to form Elevance Renewable Sciences to produce specialty chemicals from renewable oils,[30] including biofuels.[31]

Grubbs is a member of the Reliance Innovation Council formed by Reliance Industries Limited, India.[32]

Grubbs is a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.[33]

Personal life

While at Columbia University, Grubbs also met his future wife, Helen O'Kane, with whom he has three children: Barney, (b. 1972), Brendan H. (b. 1974) and Kathleen (Katy) (b. 1977).[5][34] The academic career of his children is also significant. His elder son, Robert B. (Barney) Grubbs followed his fathers footsteps, and is associate professor in polymer chemistry at Stony Brook University.[35] Brendan is a M.D. doctor and assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology at Keck School of Medicine of USC.[36] Katy received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Yale University and also a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Hawaii at Manoa.[37]

Awards and honors

Grubbs received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Richard R. Schrock and Yves Chauvin, for his work in the field of olefin metathesis.[3][38] He has received a number of other awards and honors as well, including the following:




  1. "Robert H. Grubbs". California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal". Chemical Heritage Foundation. 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 "Press Release, 5 October 2005". The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 "Jackson Purchase Nobel Laureate". Jackson Purchase Historical Society. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Robert H. Grubbs - Biographical". The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2016. In some places, my birthplace is listed as Calvert City and in others Possum Trot. I was actually born between the two, so either one really is correct.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Janine Young, Sikes (October 6, 2005). "A Gator wins Nobel in chemistry". The Gainesville Sun. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  7. "Robert H. Grubbs Ph.D. » Leadership Board". Department of Chemistry, University of Florida. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  8. "Nobel Laureates". Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  9. "Chemistry Nobel Prize for two Humboldtians". The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. 5 October 2005.
  10. "Robert H. Grubbs American chemist". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  11. 1 2 "2002 Robert H. Grubbs, Caltech". Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  12. 1 2 Miree-Luke, Lisa (October 8, 2015). "Axalta's Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Pennsylvania Features Presentation on Methathesis Polymerization". Business Wire. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  13. 1 2 Pearson, Rodney (3 April 2001). "South Pasadena chemist wins national award for designing new catalysts". EurekaAlert. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  14. 1 2 Singh, Okram Mukherjee (2006). "Metathesis catalysts: Historical perspective, recent developments and practical applications" (PDF). Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research. 65 (December): 957–965. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  15. Grubbs, Robert H. (2 June 2006). "Olefin-Metathesis Catalysts for the Preparation of Molecules and Materials (Nobel Lecture)". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 45 (23): 3760–3765. doi:10.1002/anie.200600680.
  16. Chatterjee, Arnab K.; Choi, Tae-Lim; Sanders, Daniel P.; Grubbs, Robert H. (September 2003). "A General Model for Selectivity in Olefin Cross Metathesis" (PDF). Journal of the American Chemical Society. 125 (37): 11360–11370. doi:10.1021/ja0214882. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  17. 1 2 Nguyen, SonBinh T.; Johnson, Lynda K.; Grubbs, Robert H.; Ziller, Joseph W. (May 1992). "Ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) of norbornene by a Group VIII carbene complex in protic media". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 114 (10): 3974–3975. doi:10.1021/ja00036a053. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  18. Schrock, R. R.; Feldman, J.; Cannizzo, L. F.; Grubbs, R. H. (September 1987). "Ring-opening polymerization of norbornene by a living tungsten alkylidene complex". Macromolecules. 20 (5): 1169–1172. doi:10.1021/ma00171a053. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  19. Novak, Bruce M.; Grubbs, Robert H. (1988). "The ring opening metathesis polymerization of 7-oxabicyclo[2.2.1]hept-5-ene derivatives: a new acyclic polymeric ionophore". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 110 (3): 960–961. doi:10.1021/ja00211a043.
  20. Nguyen, Sonbinh T.; Grubbs, Robert H.; Ziller, Joseph W. (1993). "Syntheses and activities of new single-component, ruthenium-based olefin metathesis catalysts". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 115 (21): 9858–9859. doi:10.1021/ja00074a086.
  21. 1 2 Notman, Nina (28 January 2015). "Grubbs catalyst". Chemistry World. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  22. Schwab, Peter; France, Marcia B.; Ziller, Joseph W.; Grubbs, Robert H. (1995). "A Series of Well-Defined Metathesis Catalysts–Synthesis of [RuCl2(CHR')(PR3)2] and Its Reactions". Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 34 (18): 2039–2041. doi:10.1002/anie.199520391.
  23. Schwab, Peter; Grubbs, Robert H.; Ziller, Joseph W. (1996). "Synthesis and Applications of RuCl2(=CHR')(PR3)2: The Influence of the Alkylidene Moiety on Metathesis Activity". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 118: 100–110. doi:10.1021/ja952676d.
  24. 1 2 Astruc, Didier (2005). "The metathesis reactions: from a historical perspective to recent developments" (PDF). New Journal of Chemistry. 29 (1): 42. doi:10.1039/b412198h. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  25. Wilson, GeraldO.; Porter, KeithA.; Weissman, Haim; White, ScottR.; Sottos, NancyR.; Moore, JeffreyS. (14 August 2009). "Stability of Second Generation Grubbs' Alkylidenes to Primary Amines: Formation of Novel Ruthenium-Amine Complexes". Advanced Synthesis & Catalysis. 351 (11-12): 1817–1825. doi:10.1002/adsc.200900134.
  26. 1 2 3 "Industry's Secret Ingredient". Caltech News. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
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  28. "The History of Materia". Materia. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  29. "Materia and Sigma-Aldrich Announce Exclusive Distribution Deal for Grubbs' Metathesis Catalysts". Business Wire. August 18, 2003. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  30. Tullo, Alexander H. (March 31, 2008). "Cargill, Materia Launch New Firm Elevance will make specialty chemicals from vegetable oils". Chemical & Englineering News. 86 (13): 6.
  31. Kotrba, Ron (March 23, 2010). "Newton plant to become biorefinery showcase". Biodiesel Magazine. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  32. "Innovation is a way of life at Reliance". Reliance Industries. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
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  35. "Robert B. (Barney) Grubbs". Stonybrook University. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  36. "Brendan H. Grubbs, MD". Retrieved 2016-07-22.
  37. "Kathleen Grubbs | LinkedIn". Retrieved 2016-07-22.
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  39. "Robert H. Grubbs". The Franklin Institute. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  40. "Herman F. Mark Award 2000". Division of Polymer Chemistry, Inc. of the American Chemical Society. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  41. "Arthur C. Cope Award". ACS Chemistry for Life. American Chemical Society. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  42. "Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity". Elsevier B.V. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  43. "Robert H.Grubbs 31st Paul Karrer Lecture 2005". University of Zurich. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  44. "2015 Inductees: Robert Howard Grubbs". Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  45. "National Academy of Sciences Members". Caltech. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  46. "REGION : Academy of Arts, Sciences Names Southland Honorees". Los Angeles Times. March 11, 1994. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
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  51. "New Academicians and Foreign Members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 55 (8): 2633–2634. February 2016. doi:10.1002/anie.201511637. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
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