Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson

Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson
(1921 - 1996)

British chemist, joint recipient with Ernst Fischer of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1973 for their independent work in organometallic chemistry.
After studying at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, Wilkinson worked with the Atomic Energy Project in Canada from 1943 to 1946. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley (1946-50), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1950-51), and Harvard University (1951-55) before returning in 1956 to the Imperial College in London, where he became professor emeritus in 1988. Wilkinson was knighted in 1976. He wrote (with F.A. Cotton) the classic textbook Advanced Inorganic Chemistry (1962).

Wilkinson discovered many new isotopes as a result of his research into the products of atomic fission reactions during the 1940s. In 1951 he read about a puzzling, newly synthesized compound called dicyclopentadienyl-iron (now called ferrocene). He correctly deduced that this compound's structure consists of a single iron atom sandwiched between two five-sided carbon rings to form an organometallic molecule. Wilkinson went on to synthesize a number of other "sandwich" compounds, or metallocenes, and his researches into this previously unknown type of chemical structure earned him the Nobel Prize. His research on metal-to-hydrogen bonding, particularly his discovery of Wilkinson's catalyst, a homogeneous hydrogenation catalyst for alkenes, had widespread significance for organic and inorganic chemistry and proved to have important industrial applications.
After returning to England, where in 1956 he became Professor at the Imperial College of Science, Wilkinson continued research on transition metal complexes. The rhodium complex Rh(Cl)(PPh)3 became known as "Wilkinson's Catalyst", useful for selectively hydrogenating olefins under mild, homogeneous conditions. Later, catalysts for olefin isomerization, hydroformylation and hydrosilylation were developed. Wilkinson's text, written with his former student, F. Albert Cotton, "Advanced Inorganic Chemistry: A Comprehensive Text", had a profound influence for decades on the teaching of that subject.

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