About Yves Chauvin, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2005
Yves Chauvin (born October 10, 1930) is a French chemist and Nobel Prize laureate. He is honorary research director at the Institut français du pétrole and a member of the French Academy of Science. Chauvin received his degree from the Lyon School of Chemistry, Physics and Electronics in 1954.
He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock, for his work from the early 1970s in the area of olefin metathesis. Chauvin was embarrassed to receive his award and initially indicated that he may not accept it. He did however receive his award from the King of Sweden and deliver his Nobel lecture.
Metathesis involves organic (carbon-based) compounds. Nearly all organic molecules consist of chains, rings, or more complex frameworks of carbon atoms to which atoms of other elements can be attached. Single, double, or triple chemical bonds connect the atoms in these molecules. Double bonds are much stronger than single bonds, making it difficult for chemists to break double bonds to form new compounds. In metathesis, chemists break double bonds more easily by introducing a catalyst—that is, a substance that starts or speeds up a chemical reaction. Chemists began performing metathesis in the 1950s without knowing exactly how the reaction worked. This lack of understanding hindered the search for more efficient catalysts.
In 1971, Chauvin explained metathesis in detail. He showed that the reaction involves two double bonds. One of the double bonds connects two parts of an organic molecule. The other double bond connects a metal-based catalyst to a fragment of an organic molecule. In metathesis, these two double bonds combine and split to make four single bonds. The single bonds form a ring that connects the metal catalyst, the organic fragment, and the two parts of the organic molecule. The metal catalyst then breaks off from the ring, carrying away part of the organic molecule. This process leaves the fragment attached to the remainder of the organic molecule with a double bond, forming a new organic compound. Scholars have compared this reaction to a dance in which two sets of partners join hands to form a ring and then split apart again to form two new partnerships.
Chauvin’s description of metathesis led Grubbs and Schrock to develop catalysts that carried out the reaction more efficiently. The three chemists’ work has enabled manufacturers to make organic compounds, including some plastics and medicines, using fewer harmful and expensive chemicals. Chauvin was born October 10, 1930, in France. In 1954, he earned a master’s degree from the Lyon School of Industrial Chemistry (now known as the Lyon School of Chemistry, Physics, and Electronics). In 1960, Chauvin began working for the French Petroleum Institute in Rueil-Malmaison. He became honorary director of research there following his retirement from the institute in 1995. Chauvin also serves as an emeritus (retired) director of research at the Lyon School of Chemistry, Physics, and Electronics.