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Nobel winner praises key work in Chemistry at Durham University

(28 June 2006)

One of the world’s top scientists, Nobel Prize winner Professor Bob Grubbs, has praised the work of Durham University’s Chemistry Department after seeing examples of its international-class research. Prof Grubbs, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who collected his Nobel Prize last December from the King of Sweden in Stockholm, has been an active collaborator with Durham University chemists for many years.

He had a week’s visit to meet staff and to inaugurate the Chemistry Department’s Frontiers in Science Lecture series - ‘The Durham Lectures’. (‘Olefin Metathesis: Fundamental Science to Commercial Applications’). Work by Durham scientists includes making new molecules and molecular assemblies, for applications in materials science, including the controlled synthesis of polymers, closely linked to the branch of chemistry that earned Prof Grubbs his Prize. The ‘Grubbs Reaction’, which he devised, is now a vital scientific and increasingly commercial step in many chemical processes. It relates to the manipulation and use of a particular type of molecule, called olefin, where atom groups change places in a reaction. This is known as olefin metathesis. Related work at Durham is among international research to develop catalysts that are much more efficient than many other existing methods because they work under in more benign conditions, take less time, use fewer resources and, in general, make less waste. Such features make the processes more attractive from both a commercial and environmental perspective. Prof Bob Grubbs has a long association with Durham's Chemistry Department. He was one of the international experts consulted by the UK research funding bodies nearly 20 years ago about investment in polymer science. Durham was chosen to co-host an Interdisciplinary Research Centre, along with Leeds and Bradford universities, which proved to be a landmark in the development of Polymer Science and the foundation for a wide range of present-day research. Prof Grubbs said: "Durham is at the core of this work. Biologists, engineers or other scientists come to chemists and say 'we need something that will do this or that job' and the chemists get to work on the synthesis of the molecules and the new materials. And while we do that, we also develop techniques that can be applied in other areas of chemistry. For example our research to make new kinds of plastics and to develop techniques that will help pharmaceutical research." He said he hopes to see more funding in basic chemistry and the recognition of quality of individual researchers, as well as the broader programme-based funding for partnerships and collaborations. Head of Chemistry, Professor David Parker, said: "The interest of Prof Bob Grubbs in Durham's work underlines its international significance. We are delighted to welcome him back to congratulate him personally on his Nobel Prize, and to show him examples of related ongoing research in Durham Chemistry."

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