Research

Catalysts are chemical entities that accelerate or change the course of chemical reactions. Catalysts based on transition metals have especially revolutionized the synthesis of both bulk and fine chemicals. Fine chemicals encompass such classes of molecules as the medicines that underly the modern healthcare system, and various materials that are involved in the manufacture of modern electronics. Without the contribution of catalysis, neither of these fields would exist in a recognizable form.

The Speed group studies complexes of main group elements (and the occasional metal) for use in catalysis. While transition metal catalysis has revolutionized chemical manufacturing, main group elements have the potential to provide similar or complementary reactivity. We are interested in replacing certain precious and toxic transition metals in catalysis with compounds containing elements from the p-block, while preserving the high turnover frequencies and turnover numbers traditionally associated with transition element catalysis. In addition, we explore base metal catalysis in attempt to broaden the scope of what is possible.

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy is our main characterization method, for observing 1H and 13C nuclei. The Dalhousie NMR facility is well equipped with a probe that can operate at many frequencies, and allows us to observe closed-shell reactive intermediates. Of special interest to our work, we can observe boron, phosphorus, fluorine, aluminum and vanadium nuclei.
Schlenk lines and glassware, made in house by our department's glassblower allow isolation of reactions from oxygen and moisture.
Two colourful chiral and air sensitive samples in our glove box. They can be removed from the glove box in sealed NMR tubes for analysis by NMR spectroscopy.

We employ Schlenk and glovebox techniques to manipulate many reactive main group fragments in exploratory work to discover new chemical reactions. A significant portion of our work involves the design of precursor compounds which tame the reactivity of the active catalyst so that they can be handled in the air using standard chemistry lab technique.

We study reactions that have application toward the synthesis of molecules of interest to medicine and materials science. We target reactions of broad scope, and are especially interested in transformations that are not accessible in one step with current technology. Current transformations under investigation include asymmetric hydrogenation, hydration, hydroamination and aminoboration reactions.