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Robert H. Grubbs
American chemist

Robert H. Grubbs

Robert H. Grubbs
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American chemist
A.K.A. Robert Howard Grubbs, Professor Robert H. Grubbs
Is Chemist Autobiographer Educator
From United States of America
Field Academia Literature Science
Gender male
Birth 27 February 1942, Marshall County
Age 80 years
The details (from wikipedia)


Robert Howard Grubbs (born February 27, 1942) is an American chemist and the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. He was a co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on olefin metathesis. He is a co-founder of Materia, a startup to produce catalysts.

Early life and education

Grubbs was born on February 27, 1942, on a farm in Marshall County, Kentucky, midway between Possum Trot and Calvert City. His parents were Howard and Faye Grubbs. Faye Grubbs was a schoolteacher. After serving in World War II, the family moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where Howard Grubbs trained as a diesel mechanic, and Robert Grubbs attended Paducah Tilghman High School.

At the University of Florida, Robert Grubbs initially intended to study agriculture. However, he was convinced by professor Merle A. Battiste to switch to organic chemistry. Working with Battiste, Grubbs became interested in how chemical reactions occur. He received his B.S. in 1963 and M.S. in 1965 from the University of Florida.

Next, Grubbs attended Columbia University, where he worked with Ronald Breslow on the antiaromaticity of cyclobutadiene. This work aroused his interest in metals and organometallic compounds which contain carbon-metal bonds. Grubbs received his Ph.D. in 1968.


Grubbs worked with James Collman at Stanford University as a National Institutes of Health fellow during 1968–1969. With Collman, he began to systematically investigate catalytic processes in organometallic chemistry, a relatively new area of research.

In 1969, Grubbs was then appointed to the faculty of Michigan State University, where he began his work on olefin metathesis. Harold Hart, Gerasimos J. Karabatsos, Gene LeGoff, Don Farnum, Bill Reusch and Pete Wagner served as his early mentors at MSU. He was an assistant professor from 1969 to 1973, and an associate professor from 1973 to 1978. He received an Sloan Fellowship for 1974–1976. In 1975, he went to the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim, Germany on a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

In 1978 Grubbs moved to California Institute of Technology as a professor of chemistry. As of 1990 he became the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry.


Grubbs' main research interests are in organometallic chemistry and synthetic chemistry, particularly the development of novel catalysts for olefin metathesis. In olefin metathesis, a catalyst is used to break the bonds of carbon molecules, which can then re-form to create chemical bonds in new ways, producing new compounds with unique properties. The basic technique can be used for creation of polymers, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals and has broad applications in areas including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, agriculture, and plastics.

Grubbs has been instrumental in developing a family of ruthenium catalysts including Grubbs' catalyst for olefin metathesis. He has studied olefin transformations for ring-closing metathesis (RCM), cross-metathesis reaction (CMR), and ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) with cyclic olefins such as norbornene. He has also contributed to the development of "living polymerization", in which the termination ability of a polymerization reaction is removed. The polymer will continue to replicate until a quenching agent is presented.

The Grubbs group successfully polymerized the 7-oxo norbornene derivative using ruthenium trichloride, osmium trichloride as well as tungsten alkylidenes. They identified a Ru(II) carbene as an effective metal center and in 1992 published the first well-defined, ruthenium-based olefin metathesis catalyst, (PPh3)2Cl2Ru=CHCH=CPh2:

Metathesis Grubbs 1992

The corresponding tricyclohexylphosphine complex (PCy3)2Cl2Ru=CHCH=CPh2 was also shown to be active. This work culminated in the now commercially available 1st generation Grubbs catalyst in 1995. Second generation catalysts have been developed as well.

Ruthenium is stable in air and has higher selectivity and lower reactivity than molybdenum, the most promising of the previously discovered catalysts. In addition, Grubbs took a green chemistry approach to catalysis that reduced the potential to create hazardous waste. Grubbs' catalyst has become a standard for general metathesis applications in ordinary laboratories.

By controlling the catalyst used, it becomes possible to synthesize polymers with specialized structures and functional capabilities, including cyclic olefins, alternating copolymers, and multiblock copolymers. Using catalysts allows chemists to speed up chemical transformations and to lower the cost of what were previously complicated multi-step industrial processes.

Industry activities

Both first and second generation Grubbs catalysts are commercially available from Materia, a startup company that Grubbs co-founded with Mike Giardello in Pasadena, California in 1998. Materia has been able to obtain exclusive rights to manufacture many of the known olefin catalysts. Under Giardello, Materia was able to sell their catalysts through Sigma-Aldrich's chemicals catalogue. Sigma-Aldrich became their exclusive worldwide provider. In 2008, Materia partnered with Cargill to form Elevance Renewable Sciences to produce specialty chemicals from renewable oils, including biofuels.

Grubbs is a member of the Reliance Innovation Council formed by Reliance Industries Limited, India.

Grubbs is a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.

Personal life

While at Columbia University, Grubbs also met his future wife, Helen O'Kane, with whom he has three children: Barney, (born 1972), Brendan H. (born 1974) and Kathleen (Katy) (born 1977). The academic career of his children is also significant. His elder son, Robert B. (Barney) Grubbs followed his father's footsteps, and is associate professor in polymer chemistry at Stony Brook University. Brendan is a M.D. doctor and assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Keck School of Medicine of USC. Katy received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Yale University and also a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Awards and honors

Grubbs received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Richard R. Schrock and Yves Chauvin, for his work in the field of olefin metathesis. He has received a number of other awards and honors as well, including the following:


  • 2000: Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry from the Franklin Institute
  • 2000: ACS Herman F. Mark Polymer Chemistry Award
  • 2001: ACS Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods
  • 2002: Tolman Medal
  • 2002: Arthur C. Cope Award
  • 2003: Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry & BioMedicinal Chemistry (with Dieter Seebach)
  • 2005: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with Richard R. Schrock and Yves Chauvin)
  • 2005: Paul Karrer Gold Medal
  • 2010: American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal
  • 2015: Inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame


  • 1989: National Academy of Sciences
  • 1994: American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2005: Royal Society of Chemistry (honorary fellow)
  • 2009: American Chemical Society
  • 2013: National Academy of Inventors
  • 2015: National Academy of Engineering
  • 2015: Chinese Academy of Sciences (foreign academician)

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