Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 1981
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of Sussex, United Kingdom
“for pioneering and fundamental contributions to synthetic transition metal chemistry, particularly transition metal hydrides and dinitrogen complexes”.
Professor Joseph Chatt has made outstanding pioneering contributions to modern inorganic chemistry. His name is particularly associated with the use of tertiary phosphines as ligands and the reactions of complex compounds in organic solvents. He has studied the nature of the coordinate link which led to his establishment of the Chatt-Dewar model for the binding of olefins to transition metals, and from there he developed ideas which led to the synthesis of stable transition metal alkyls and aryls, and hydrides. From these researches have grown a vast new area of organometallic and catalytic chemistry, which finds direct expression in the catalytic processes exploited in the petrochemical industry.
He also has developed theories to rationalise the trans-effect and also a classification of metal ions as Class (a) or Class (b) which provided the basis for the ‘hard’ and “soft” classification of acids and bases.
He led a varied team of scientists, which has achieved international acclaim in the study of nitrogen fixation. His chemical work has revealed the first reactions of complexed dinitrogen to yield well defined complexes, a large number of new dinitrogen complexes, and the first’ indications of a rational development of new catalytic processes for the synthesis of ammonia, hydrazine, and amines. It also offerd the first real prospect of understanding the chemistry of the natural nitrogen fixation process mediated by the enzyme nitrogenase.