Robert G. Bergman
Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 2017
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of California, Berkeley, USA
“for the discovery of the activation of C-H bonds of hydrocarbons by soluble transition metal complexes”.
Hydrocarbons (alkanes), the major constituents of petroleum, are the most abundant row material of the chemical industry for producing a variety of important products such as plastics. The utilization of alkanes is greatly facilitated by the activation of their highly inert C-H bonds. Finding the means for such activation has been a high priority goal for generations of chemists. In the early 1980s Bergman discovered the first transition metal compound (an iridium complex) to catalyze the activation of C-H bonds leading to an oxidative addition reaction. Bergman’s discovery of C-H oxidative additions has stimulated an entirely new sub-field of research, both in academia and industry, and continues to be a “hot” research topic.
Bergman’s early work in this area focused on fundamentals of C-H bond activation. It established that intermolecular C-H bond oxidative addition is very general including for the least reactive hydrocarbon methane. He also established that C-H activation occurs with a variety of low-valent metals such as rhenium, is strongly favored over intramolecular insertion, is a thermally reversible reaction, can be achieved with asymmetric induction, and that the C-H activating intermediates can be generated both thermally and photochemically. More recently he discovered methods to apply catalytic C-H bond activation reactions to the synthesis of a wide variety of useful heterocycles. Bergman’s brilliant studies are now textbook examples of outstanding mechanistic research.
In addition to C-H bond activation, Bergman has been responsible for an impressive number of enduring, path-breaking contributions to physical organic, organometallic and inorganic chemistry, and homogeneous catalysis. His impact on these fields has been monumental and his discoveries have been the basis for advances ranging from petroleum chemistry (C-H activation) to medicinal chemistry (ene-diyne cycloaromatization).