Geoffrey Wilkinson

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Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson
Geoffrey Wilkinson ca. 1976.png
Born(1921-07-14)14 July 1921
Died26 September 1996(1996-09-26) (aged 75)
London, England
Alma mater Imperial College London (PhD)
Known forHomogeneous transition metal catalysis
Scientific career
Fields Inorganic chemistry
Thesis Some physico-chemical observations on hydrolysis in the homogeneous vapour phase  (1946)
Doctoral advisor Henry Vincent Aird Briscoe [2]
Other academic advisors Glenn T. Seaborg (post doctoral advisor)
Doctoral students
Other notable students Richard A. Andersen (postdoc)
Influenced Malcolm H. Chisholm

Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson FRS [1] (14 July 1921 – 26 September 1996) was a Nobel laureate English chemist who pioneered inorganic chemistry and homogeneous transition metal catalysis. [7] [8]


Education and early life

Wilkinson was born at Springside, Todmorden, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, Henry Wilkinson, was a master house painter and decorator; his mother, Ruth, worked in a local cotton mill. One of his uncles, an organist and choirmaster, had married into a family that owned a small chemical company making Epsom and Glauber's salts for the pharmaceutical industry; this is where he first developed an interest in chemistry.

He was educated at the local council primary school and, after winning a County Scholarship in 1932, went to Todmorden Grammar School. His physics teacher there, Luke Sutcliffe, had also taught Sir John Cockcroft, who received a Nobel Prize for "splitting the atom". In 1939 he obtained a Royal Scholarship for study at Imperial College London, from where he graduated in 1941, with his PhD awarded in 1946 entitled "Some physico-chemical observations of hydrolysis in the homogeneous vapour phase". [9] [2] [10]

Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3 Wilkinson's-catalyst-no-hydrogens-3D-balls.png
Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3

Career and research

In 1942 Professor Friedrich Paneth was recruiting young chemists for the nuclear energy project. Wilkinson joined and was sent out to Canada, where he stayed in Montreal and later Chalk River Laboratories until he could leave in 1946. For the next four years he worked with Professor Glenn T. Seaborg at University of California, Berkeley, mostly on nuclear taxonomy. [11] He then became a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and began to return to his first interest as a student – transition metal complexes of ligands such as carbon monoxide and olefins.

He was at Harvard University from September 1951 until he returned to England in December 1955, with a sabbatical break of nine months in Copenhagen. At Harvard, he still did some nuclear work on excitation functions for protons in cobalt, but had already begun to work on olefin complexes.

In June 1955 he was appointed to the chair of Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College London, and from then on worked almost entirely on the complexes of transition metals.

Structure of ferrocene Fe(C5H5)2 Ferrocene 3d model 1.png
Structure of ferrocene Fe(C5H5)2

Wilkinson is well known for his popularisation of the use of Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3 in catalytic hydrogenation, and for the discovery of the structure of ferrocene. Wilkinson's catalyst is used industrially in the hydrogenation of alkenes to alkanes. [12] [13]

He supervised PhD students and postdoctoral researchers including John A. Osborn, Alan Davison [3] [4] and Malcolm Green. [5]

Awards and honours

Wilkinson received many awards, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1973 [2] for his work on "organometallic compounds" (with Ernst Otto Fischer). He is also well known for writing, with his former doctoral student F. Albert Cotton, "Advanced Inorganic Chemistry", often referred to simply as "Cotton and Wilkinson", one of the standard inorganic chemistry textbooks. [14]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1965. [1] In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Bath. Imperial College London named a new hall of residence after him, which opened in October 2009. Wilkinson Hall is named in his honour. [15]

Personal life

Wilkinson was married to Lise Schou, a Danish plant physiologist whom he had met at Berkeley. They had two daughters, Anne and Pernille. [1]

Related Research Articles

Organometallic chemistry Study of chemical compounds containing at least one bond between a carbon atom of an organic compound and a metal

Organometallic chemistry is the study of organometallic compounds, chemical compounds containing at least one chemical bond between a carbon atom of an organic molecule and a metal, including alkaline, alkaline earth, and transition metals, and sometimes broadened to include metalloids like boron, silicon, and selenium, as well. Aside from bonds to organyl fragments or molecules, bonds to 'inorganic' carbon, like carbon monoxide, cyanide, or carbide, are generally considered to be organometallic as well. Some related compounds such as transition metal hydrides and metal phosphine complexes are often included in discussions of organometallic compounds, though strictly speaking, they are not necessarily organometallic. The related but distinct term "metalorganic compound" refers to metal-containing compounds lacking direct metal-carbon bonds but which contain organic ligands. Metal β-diketonates, alkoxides, dialkylamides, and metal phosphine complexes are representative members of this class. The field of organometallic chemistry combines aspects of traditional inorganic and organic chemistry.

Hydroformylation, also known as oxo synthesis or oxo process, is an industrial process for the production of aldehydes from alkenes. This chemical reaction entails the net addition of a formyl group (CHO) and a hydrogen atom to a carbon-carbon double bond. This process has undergone continuous growth since its invention: Production capacity reached 6.6×106 tons in 1995. It is important because aldehydes are easily converted into many secondary products. For example, the resulting aldehydes are hydrogenated to alcohols that are converted to detergents. Hydroformylation is also used in speciality chemicals, relevant to the organic synthesis of fragrances and drugs. The development of hydroformylation is one of the premier achievements of 20th-century industrial chemistry.

Wilkinsons catalyst Chemical compound

Wilkinson's catalyst is the common name for chloridotris(triphenylphosphine)rhodium(I), a coordination complex of rhodium with the formula [RhCl(PPh3)3] (Ph = phenyl). It is a red-brown colored solid that is soluble in hydrocarbon solvents such as benzene, and more so in tetrahydrofuran or chlorinated solvents such as dichloromethane. The compound is widely used as a catalyst for hydrogenation of alkenes. It is named after chemist and Nobel laureate Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, who first popularized its use.

Rhodium(III) chloride Chemical compound

Rhodium(III) chloride refers to inorganic compounds with the formula RhCl3(H2O)n, where n varies from 0 to 3. These are diamagnetic solids featuring octahedral Rh(III) centres. Depending on the value of n, the material is either a dense brown solid or a soluble reddish salt. The soluble trihydrated (n = 3) salt is widely used to prepare compounds used in homogeneous catalysis, notably for the industrial production of acetic acid and hydroformylation.

Richard R. Schrock American chemist and Nobel Laureate (born 1945)

Richard Royce Schrock is an American chemist and Nobel laureate recognized for his contributions to the olefin metathesis reaction used in organic chemistry.

Crabtrees catalyst Chemical compound

Crabtree's catalyst is an organoiridium compound with the formula [C8H12IrP(C6H11)3C5H5N]PF6. It is a homogeneous catalyst for hydrogenation and hydrogen-transfer reactions, developed by Robert H. Crabtree. This air stable orange solid is commercially available and known for its directed hydrogenation to give trans stereoselectivity with respective of directing group.

Jack Halpern was an inorganic chemist, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago. Born in Poland, he moved to Canada in 1929 and the United States in 1962.

Malcolm Leslie Hodder Green was Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford. He made many contributions to organometallic chemistry.

F. Albert Cotton

Frank Albert Cotton was an American chemist. He was the W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. He authored over 1600 scientific articles. Cotton was recognized for his research on the chemistry of the transition metals.

Tobin Jay Marks is the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Professor of Catalytic Chemistry, Professor of Material Science and Engineering, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Professor of Applied Physics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Among the themes of his research are synthetic organo-f-element and early-transition metal organometallic chemistry, polymer chemistry, materials chemistry, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, molecule-based photonic materials, superconductivity, metal-organic chemical vapor deposition, and biological aspects of transition metal chemistry.

George Parshall

George W. Parshall was an American organometallic chemist who made notable contributions to homogeneous catalysis. He was a senior scientist at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company for many years.

Jean-Marie Basset is a French chemist, and is currently the director of KAUST catalysis research center.

Martin Arthur Bennett FRS is an Australian inorganic chemist. He gained recognition for studies on the co-ordination chemistry of tertiary phosphines, olefins, and acetylenes, and the relationship of their behaviour to homogeneous catalysis.

Todmorden High School Comprehensive school in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, England

Todmorden High School is a comprehensive school in the town of Todmorden, Calderdale LEA, West Yorkshire, England.

A migratory insertion is a type of reaction in organometallic chemistry wherein two ligands on a metal complex combine. It is a subset of reactions that very closely resembles the insertion reactions, and both are differentiated by the mechanism that leads to the resulting stereochemistry of the products. However, often the two are used interchangeably because the mechanism is sometimes unknown. Therefore, migratory insertion reactions or insertion reactions, for short, are defined not by the mechanism but by the overall regiochemistry wherein one chemical entity interposes itself into an existing bond of typically a second chemical entity e.g.:

Organorhodium chemistry

Organorhodium chemistry is the chemistry of organometallic compounds containing a rhodium-carbon chemical bond, and the study of rhodium and rhodium compounds as catalysts in organic reactions.

Alan Davison FRS was a British inorganic chemist known for his work on transition metals, and a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

R. Tom Baker is an inorganic chemist known for the development and application of inorganic transition metal-based catalysis.

Clark Landis is an American chemist, whose research focuses on organic and inorganic chemistry. He is currently a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was awarded the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry in 2010, and is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

John A. Osborn (1939-2000) was an inorganic chemist who made many contributions to organometallic chemistry. Obsorn received his PhD under the mentorship of Geoffrey Wilkinson. During that degree Osborn contributed to the development of Wilkinson's catalyst. His thesis studies ranged widely.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Green, M. L. H.; Griffith, W. P. (2000). "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson. 14 July 1921 -- 26 September 1996: Elected 18 March 1965". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 46: 593–606. doi: 10.1098/rsbm.1999.0103 .
  2. 1 2 3 "Geoffrey Wilkinson - Autobiography". 11 October 2012. Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  3. 1 2 Davison, Alan (1962). Studies on the chemistry of transition metal carbonyls. (PhD thesis). Imperial College London. hdl:10044/1/13205.
  4. 1 2 Green, Malcolm L. H.; Cummins, Christopher C.; Kronauge, James F. (2017). "Alan Davison. 24 March 1936 – 14 November 2015". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 63: 197–213. doi: 10.1098/rsbm.2017.0004 . ISSN   0080-4606.
  5. 1 2 Green, Malcolm Leslie Hodder Green (1958). A study of some transitional metal hydrides and olefin complexes. (PhD thesis). Imperial College London.
  6. "Professor William Griffith". Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  7. "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson 1921−1996 IN MEMORIAM". Inorganic Chemistry. 35 (26): 7463–7464. 1996. doi: 10.1021/ic961299i .
  8. "Geoffrey Wilkinson Patents". Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2006.
  9. EThOS
  10. Mainz, Vera V.; Girolami, Gregory S. (1988). "GENEALOGY DATABASE ENTRY - Wikinson, Geoffrey" (PDF).
  11. "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson | British chemist".
  12. Jardine, F.H. (1996). "The Contributions of Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, F.R.S., (1921–1996) to Rhodium Chemistry". Rhodium Express. 16: 4–10. ISSN   0869-7876.
  13. Osborn, J. A.; Jardine, F. H.; Young, J. F.; Wilkinson, G. (1966). "The Preparation and Properties of Tris(triphenylphosphine)halogenorhodium(I) and Some Reactions Thereof Including Catalytic Homogeneous Hydrogenation of Olefins and Acetylenes and Their Derivatives". Journal of the Chemical Society A : 1711–1732. doi:10.1039/J19660001711.
  14. Cotton, Frank Albert; Wilkinson, Geoffrey; Murillo, Carlos A. (1999). Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. p. 1355. ISBN   9780471199571.
  15. Wilkinson Hall at Imperial College London