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  • Professor Nathaniel Szymczak
    11/06/18 - 9:45 AM to 10:45 AM

    Dow Lecture Series: Professor Nathaniel Szymczak

    Dow Lecture Series

Moving Beyond the Metal: Assisted Small Molecule Activation

The design of metal complexes and catalysts that are capable of selective bond activation of small molecules has been a longstanding target of the synthetic community. The current paradigm primarily focuses on a single active metal site with ligands that impart steric and electronic tunability to achieve substrate binding and activation, with limited attention paid to the secondary interactions of appended groups. Taking inspiration from biological systems, our group is working to develop strategies to exploit acidic and basic groups (hydrogen bond donors, Lewis acids/bases) to promote cooperative interactions. This presentation will emphasize how Lewis acids can be used to augment metal-based reactivity as well as to show how incorporation of these units within a ligand scaffold can provide access to unique activation processes. 


Professor Szymczak's research program focuses primarily on synthetic transition-metal based inorganic chemistry targeted toward the development of new catalytic transformations for energy recycling and delivery with minimal energy input. The overarching themes of his research program are to (a) understand how to exploit carefully positioned secondary-sphere sites to control reactivity, and (b) develop transition metal compounds to promote otherwise difficult transformations of small molecule chemical feedstocks such as N2, CO2, O2, and CO. His researchers are working to establish new ways by which molecular catalysts can be tuned by the incorporation of pendent functional groups within a metal’s secondary coordination sphere environment. They are using these appended functional groups (hydrogen bond donor/acceptors, or Lewis acid/bases) to augment reactivity of the central transition metal in order to promote the activation/delivery of small molecules to appropriate substrates. Overall, their approach aims to move the emphasis away from the transition metal, and instead, place high importance on secondary-coordination sphere interactions (not directly bound to the metal) to develop new metal complexes and catalysts that synergistically engage substrates for binding/reduction, regulate activity, and ultimately incorporate earth-abundant metals.

Professor Szymczak

Nate Szymczak was born in Wollongong, Australia. In 2002, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry with a specialization in environmental chemistry from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he worked on several undergraduate research projects, each focused on a unique approach to environmentally motivated chemistry and synthetic bioinorganic chemistry. In the fall of 2002, Szymczak began doctoral studies under the direction of Professor David Tyler at the University of Oregon. His graduate research focused on water-soluble transition metal dihydrogen and dinitrogen complexes as well as hydrogen-bonding interactions of a coordinated H2 ligand. As part of a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, he participated in a brief internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He was awarded a doctorate in 2007, and pursued post-doctoral research with Professor Jonas Peters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology. His work focused on the development of bimetallic macrocyclic coordination complexes for electrocatalytic proton reduction and other multi-electron transformations, as well as the development of reliable methods to electrochemically investigate homogeneous systems at elevated pressures. In 2010, Professor Szymczak joined the faculty at the University of Michigan.

  • Event Details

    Location: 331 Smith Hall
    Host: Professor Ian Tonks
    • Professor Nathaniel Szymczak
    • Nathaniel Szymczak
    • Department of Chemistry
    • University of Michigan
    • Ann Arbor