Wilkinson, Sir Geoffrey

Wilkinson, Sir Geoffrey
▪ 1997

      British chemist (b. July 14, 1921, Todmorden, Yorkshire, Eng.—d. Sept. 26, 1996, London, Eng.), was the corecipient, with Ernst Fischer, of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work in organometallic chemistry in which the "sandwich" structure and properties of molecules known as metallocenes—with a metal atom between two flat hydrocarbon rings—was identified. Their explanation of this previously unknown manner in which metals and organic substances could merge opened up new areas of research. Wilkinson was studying for his Ph.D. at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, when he was recruited (1943) to work with the Atomic Energy Project in Canada. After teaching at the University of California, Berkeley (1946-50), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1950-51), and Harvard University (1951-55), he returned (1956) to Imperial College, where he served as professor (Sir Edward Frankland professor from 1978) of inorganic chemistry until becoming professor emeritus in 1988. He continued with his research until his death. Wilkinson's work on organometallic compounds led to discoveries having significant industrial applications—among them, catalysts used in producing low-lead fuels and the compound known as Wilkinson's catalyst, which aided in the development of methods for synthesizing pharmaceutical chemicals. With F.A. Cotton, Wilkinson published a textbook, Advanced Inorganic Chemistry (1962), that became a standard and changed the approach to the teaching of the subject. He completed his work on its sixth edition the week before he died. Wilkinson was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1965 and was knighted in 1976.

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▪ British chemist
born July 14, 1921, Todmorden, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Sept. 26, 1996, London

      British chemist, joint recipient with Ernst Fischer (Fischer, Ernst Otto) 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.

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Universalium. 2010.

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