Maurice Brookhart, a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2001, joined the University of Houston faculty in September as a professor of chemistry. He is noted for his fundamental research on the synthetic and mechanistic chemistry of compounds containing metal-carbon bonds, species known as organometallic complexes.
Brookhart’s current 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 olefins and other small molecules that Brookhart targets in his catalyst studies are derived from oil and natural gas.
An example of a simple polymer that his catalysts will produce is polyethylene, a common plastic produced commercially on an 80-million ton per year scale. Several polymer manufacturers are investigating the commercialization potential of Brookhart catalysts.
“Professor Brookhart’s phenomenal research accomplishments speak for themselves,” said David Hoffman, chair of the 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’s studies of how catalysts derived from metals on the right side of the periodic table work are taught in chemistry classrooms around the world. These catalysts are called late transition metal catalysts.
“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.
At UH, Brookhart will be working to create new late transition metal catalysts for olefin polymerization. He says there are two important consequences of using late transition metal catalysts.
“First, it is relatively easy to modify the properties of the polymers being produced by tweaking the catalyst geometry,” Brookhart said. “Second, late transition metal catalysts allow for production of specialty polymers at lower temperatures and pressures than traditional methods. This potentially results in cost savings on an industrial scale and the development of more environmentally friendly products.”
Brookhart is also 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.
Among his many accolades, 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