Geoffrey Wilkinson

Geoffrey Wilkinson

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Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson FRS (14 July 1921 – 26 September 1996) was a Nobel laureate English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 who pioneered inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry is the branch of chemistry concerned with the properties and behavior of inorganic compounds. This field covers all chemical compounds except the myriad organic compounds , which are the subjects of organic chemistry...

 and homogeneous transition metal
Transition metal
The term transition metal has two possible meanings:*The IUPAC definition states that a transition metal is "an element whose atom has an incomplete d sub-shell, or which can give rise to cations with an incomplete d sub-shell." Group 12 elements are not transition metals in this definition.*Some...

Catalysis is the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. A catalyst may participate in multiple chemical transformations....



Wilkinson was born at Springside, Todmorden
Todmorden is a market town and civil parish, located 17 miles from Manchester, within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England. It forms part of the Upper Calder Valley and has a total population of 14,941....

, in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

. His father, also a Geoffrey, was a master house painter and decorator; his mother worked in a local cotton mill
Cotton mill
A cotton mill is a factory that houses spinning and weaving machinery. Typically built between 1775 and 1930, mills spun cotton which was an important product during the Industrial Revolution....

. One of his uncles, an organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

 and choirmaster
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...

, had married into a family that owned a small chemical company making Epsom
Magnesium sulfate
Magnesium sulfate is a chemical compound containing magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, with the formula MgSO4. It is often encountered as the heptahydrate epsomite , commonly called Epsom salt, from the town of Epsom in Surrey, England, where the salt was distilled from the springs that arise where the...

 and Glauber
Sodium sulfate
Sodium sulfate is the sodium salt of sulfuric acid. When anhydrous, it is a white crystalline solid of formula Na2SO4 known as the mineral thenardite; the decahydrate Na2SO4·10H2O has been known as Glauber's salt or, historically, sal mirabilis since the 17th century. Another solid is the...

's salts for the pharmaceutical industry; this is where he first developed an interest in chemistry.

He was educated at the local council primary school and, after winning a County Scholarship in 1932, went to Todmorden Secondary School
Todmorden High School
Todmorden High School is a comprehensive school in the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden, in the Calderdale LEA. The school has specialist Arts College status.-Todmorden High School:...

. His physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 teacher there, Luke Sutcliffe, had also taught Sir John Cockcroft
John Cockcroft
Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....

, who received a Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 for "splitting the atom".

In 1939 he obtained a Royal Scholarship for study at Imperial College London
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

, from where he graduated in 1941. In 1942 Professor Friedrich Paneth
Friedrich Paneth
Friedrich Adolf Paneth was an Austrian-born British chemist. Fleeing the Nazis, he escaped to Britain and became a British citizen in 1939 but returned as director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in 1953....

 was recruiting young chemists for the nuclear energy
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

 project. Wilkinson joined and was sent out to Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, where he stayed in Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

 and later Chalk River Laboratories
Chalk River Laboratories
The Chalk River Laboratories is a Canadian nuclear research facility located near Chalk River, about north-west of Ottawa in the province of Ontario.CRL is a site of major research and development to support and advance nuclear technology, in particular CANDU reactor...

 until he could leave in 1946. For the next four years he worked with Professor Glenn T. Seaborg
Glenn T. Seaborg
Glenn Theodore Seaborg was an American scientist who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements", contributed to the discovery and isolation of ten elements, and developed the actinide concept, which led to the current arrangement of the...

 at University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

, mostly on nuclear taxonomy. He then became a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 and began to return to his first interest as a student - transition metal complex
Complex (chemistry)
In chemistry, a coordination complex or metal complex, is an atom or ion , bonded to a surrounding array of molecules or anions, that are in turn known as ligands or complexing agents...

es of ligand
In coordination chemistry, a ligand is an ion or molecule that binds to a central metal atom to form a coordination complex. The bonding between metal and ligand generally involves formal donation of one or more of the ligand's electron pairs. The nature of metal-ligand bonding can range from...

s such as carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 and olefins.

He was then at the Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 from September 1951 until he returned to England in December 1955, with a sabbatical break of nine months in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

. At Harvard, he still did some nuclear work on excitation functions for proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s in cobalt
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. It is found naturally only in chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal....

, but had already begun to work on olefin complexes.

In June 1955 he was appointed to the chair of Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College London
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

, and from then on worked almost entirely on the complexes of transition metals. Imperial College London named a new hall of residence after him, which opened in October 2009.

He was married, with two daughters.


He is well known for his invention of Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3, and for the discovery of the structure of ferrocene
Ferrocene is an organometallic compound with the formula Fe2. It is the prototypical metallocene, a type of organometallic chemical compound consisting of two cyclopentadienyl rings bound on opposite sides of a central metal atom. Such organometallic compounds are also known as sandwich compounds...

. Wilkinson's catalyst is used industrially in the hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 of alkenes to alkanes.

He received many awards, including the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...

 for Chemistry in 1973 for his work on “organometallic compounds” (with Ernst Otto Fischer
Ernst Otto Fischer
Ernst Otto Fischer was a German chemist who won the Nobel Prize for pioneering work in the area of organometallic chemistry.-Early life:...

). He is also well known for writing, with his former doctoral student F. Albert Cotton
F. Albert Cotton
Frank Albert Cotton was the W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. He authored over 1700 scientific articles. Cotton was recognized for his research on the chemistry of the transition metals.-Education:Frank Albert Cotton was born on...

, "Advanced Inorganic Chemistry", often referred to simply as "Cotton and Wilkinson", one of the standard inorganic chemistry textbooks.

External links