The France Research Group
The focus of our current research is on the development of ruthenium catalysts for the hydrogenation of esters and ketones to form alcohols. Traditional methods for these transformations require the use of stoichiometric reagents such as lithium aluminum hydride. These reactions generate large quantities of waste, making them environmentally and economically unattractive for industrial applications. In contrast, an effective catalyst for the addition of hydrogen gas to these compounds would only generate trace amounts of side products, making the reactions much more "green." In addition to concerns over the development of more environmentally friendly reagents, the reduction of ketones has an added consideration in that this reaction involves the formation of a new chiral center. Our research also involves developing new chiral catalysts to control the stereochemistry of such a reaction. Stereochemistry is the study of stereoisomers -- compounds that have the same atomic connectivity but differ in their 3-dimensional orientation in space. Objects that have a non-superimposable mirror image (such as your hands) possess the property of chirality. The configuration of organic molecules has a profound impact on their behavior in chiral environments such as the human body; mirror image molecules are seen as different species and possess different chemical properties. For example, different mirror images of pharmaceutical companies can have very different effects in the body. In most cases, one stereoisomer is active while the other, at best, is just a spectator or, at worst, causes serious complications that compromise the efficacy of the drug.