Olefins are one of those molecules that most people do not recognize, however, which seem everywhere: in bottles, in medicines, in wetsuits, and tires. University of Chicago chemists have found an efficient technique to make a kind of olefin with four different attachments—utilized in every little thing from medicines to new ways to store data.
In a paper published on November 18 in Nature Chemistry, four University of Chicago scientists laid out the invention in making these molecules, called tetra-substituted olefins. With the new technique, they can easily and precisely choose as much as four different attachments, like a mix-n-match IKEA shelving unit. Plus, their catalyst cuts the variety of steps to make the compounds, i.e., from seven to two or three.
So far, nearly eight Nobel Prizes have been given for discoveries linked to olefin molecules. Today the useful molecules are manufactured by the millions every day all over the world, appearing in vitamins, medicines, plastic products, and more.
However, one particular type of olefin, consisting of a central unit with four different attachments, has been tricky to make. Most techniques involve an advanced process, in which a long sequence is usually required to install members one by one—and it is tough to get each part precisely where it should go.
Professor Guangbin Dong, a leading organic chemist, is a senior author of the paper. His team had the concept of creating a different kind of catalyst: one that used norbornene, but bigger than the usual, with an extra branch connected.