As the 21st century progresses, we're all aware that that our lives need to become more eco-friendly. Green chemistry is a way to make that happen. One of the pioneers of green chemistry is Robert Howard Grubbs.
Prof. Grubbs' most famous contribution is to 'olefin metathesis'. This is a process that was explained by the French chemist Yves Chauvin in 1971.
An important requirement in a metathesis reaction is a catalyst. A chemical that helps make a reaction go faster, but does not take part in it. In a metathesis reaction, the catalyst is needed to help swap the reagents so that the new chemical can be made.
Grubbs' discovered a special group of chemicals that were ideal catalysts for metathesis. These are called Grubbs' Catalysts. They are complex organic compounds, with a metal ion like ruthenium at the core. They really speed up reactions; can be used for a wide variety of them leaving no waste. Thus they stick to the principles of Green Chemistry.
One use of Grubb's catalysts is in automatic repair of spaceship bodies. Though a spaceship is made of tough materials, even a microscopic crack is dangerous. Therefore, these are embedded with Grubbs' catalyst and a chemical known as dicyclopentadiene (DCPD). Whenever a crack occurs, the catalyst causes a reaction between DCPD molecules, creating a cement-like substance that seals the crack!
Robert Grubbs was born in Marshall County, Kentucky, USA in 1942. He finished his school from Paducah Tilghman High School in Paducah, Kentucky. He then went to do his B.S. and M.S. in chemistry from the University of Florida. In 1968, he completed his PhD from Columbia University.
He was appointed to the faculty of Michigan State University, and later shifted to the California Institute of Technology (better known as CalTech), where he still works.
He was elected a fellow of the prestigious National Academny of Sciences of the USA. In 2005, he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, in honour of the Grubbs' Catalyst that helped make Green Chemistry a reality.
As a child, Prof. Grubbs chose to spend all his pocket money on nails, instead of candy. He used these nails to build articles out of scrap wood. It is no surprise that this constructive mind turned to catalysis - the way to build new chemicals!