Chemist, National Academy Member Maurice Brookhart Joins UH

Brookhart is Noted for Work in Organometallic Chemistry and Catalysis

Noted chemist Maurice Brookhart has joined the UH Department of Chemistry.

Maurice Brookhart, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has joined the University of Houston faculty as a professor of chemistry. He is noted for fundamental research on the synthetic and mechanistic chemistry of compounds containing metal-carbon bonds, known as organometallic complexes.

His research focuses on developing new organometallic catalysts for linking together molecules called olefins, in a process known as olefin polymerization, and on developing catalysts to break and functionalize inert carbon-hydrogen and carbon-carbon bonds.

The work could lead to more efficient production of some types of plastics.

Brookhart said his work at UH will center on creating new late transition metal catalysts for olefin polymerization, noting that there are two important reasons for this focus.

“First, it is relatively easy to modify the properties of the polymers being produced by tweaking the catalyst geometry,” he said. “Second, late transition metal catalysts allow for production of specialty polymers at lower temperatures and pressures than traditional methods.”

That potentially could result in cost savings on an industrial scale and the development of more environmentally friendly products, he said.

Polyethylene, a common, commercially produced plastic, is an example of a simple polymer that his catalysts are designed to produce. Several polymer manufacturers are investigating commercialization of his catalysts.

“Professor Brookhart’s phenomenal research accomplishments speak for themselves,” said David Hoffman, chairman of the UH Department of Chemistry. “As we grow our department, having someone of his stature on our faculty will help us tremendously in attracting the best faculty candidates from around the world.”

Brookhart said he also is interested in developing efficient catalysts to polymerize olefins that degrade, or “poison,” the performance of standard catalysts.

“My work in recent years has been highly collaborative, and I look forward to working with my new colleagues, especially the junior faculty in chemistry,” he said.

His studies of how catalysts derived from metals on the right side of the periodic table work – late transition metal catalysts – are taught in chemistry classrooms around the world.

“His work is used to teach how to study mechanisms and to illustrate how knowledge derived from detailed mechanistic studies can be used to make important technological advances,” Hoffman said.

In addition to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001, Brookhart has received four national American Chemistry Society Awards – the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry, the Arthur C. Cope Award, the ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry, and the ACS Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis.

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics