Brandeis chemist wins Sloan Research Fellowship

Research focused on developing alternatives to atmospheric pollutants

Brandeis chemist Oleg Ozerov has won a 2006 Sloan Research Fellowship, a highly competitive award given to the very best young faculty in specific scientific disciplines. Ozerov's prize-winning research focuses on how transition metal centers make and break chemical bonds during catalysis.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which established the awards a half century ago, gave 116 awards this year in seven fields. The purpose of the fellowship is to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise, according to the Foundation.

The research has enormous potential practical application because one of the specific chemical bonds at the heart of Ozerov's work, the Herculean carbon-fluorine bond, is a major component of the PFC greenhouse gases created as a by-product of industrial aluminum production. And it is thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, Ozerov was recognized for his groundbreaking work in this area in 2003, when he won a Research Innovation award from Research Corporation.

"Oleg's approach to developing new and distinctive methods for molecular synthesis has not only fundamental significance, but great practical potential in the search for recyclable, environmentally-friendly catalysts," said Peter Jordan, chair of the Brandeis chemistry department. That's because the unreactive, strong bonds that make fluorinated organic compounds so good as refrigerants, solvents and propellants on earth, render them harmful in the atmosphere, where they resist breaking down and help trap solar radiation.

"The strongest single bond most elements make is the one to fluorine, and the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds known," said Ozerov. His goal is to functionalize carbon-fluorine bonds, or reconfigure them, into carbon-hydrogen bonds.

Recently, Ozerov made a significant step toward this goal in his lab, when he was able to rapidly catalyze a reaction in which a silicon-hydrogen bond and a carbon-fluorine bond swapped out at room temperature. The resulting silicon-fluorine bond and carbon-hydrogen bond was the basis for big news in international chemistry.

"Silicon fluorine bonds are strong but more reactive; you can certainly remediate that bond into something that is not atmospherically polluting," explained Ozerov.

Jordan put it this way: "It was a remarkable advance in fluorine chemistry that will probably have an important impact on the remediation of atmospheric fluorocarbon pollutants."

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