Rosie Ruiz chemistry

As 2016 is slowly winding up, let’s turn to Scopus and see what’s been cooking in this chemistry universe of ours. Tonight we will take the unfortunate misnomer “metal-free”. It turns out that in 2016 the synthetic community has churned out a whooping 1391 papers containing this topic. The vast majority of these papers are interesting and potentially useful. But this is despite being labeled “metal-free”, not due to some features of this dubious concept. This whole thing reminds me of Rosie Ruiz, who won the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980 in the female category. Her title was later taken away when it was uncovered that Rosie took the subway for a good chunk of that run. I liken many of the metal-free approaches to Rosie’s feat. Thankfully, these papers expose a huge gap in chemistry education: we do not provide our students with the origins of industrial chemicals. How many of us know how common components (such as benzaldehyde, pyridine, aniline, etc) of “metal-free” reactions are made in industry? Armed with this information, we might be able to better appreciate that the heavy lifting is often done early, using metal-based chemistry that is far less glorious than the picture painted later by those “metal-free” routes. In this age of sustainability, I always want to keep in mind that synthesis is not a sprint but a gruelling marathon.

4 thoughts on “Rosie Ruiz chemistry

  1. Prof. Yudin — you make a very good point here. I agree that a lot of the “heavy lifting” of chemical transformations is done early (even if those transformations don’t add huge value to the materials). I also completely concur that most chemists are unaware of the industrial processes used to make common starting materials.

    How do we start educating students (and ourselves) in this area? Are there books or websites that you can recommend? Is there any chance that these topics become part of a typical advanced undergraduate or early graduate curriculum?

  2. This kind of thing is one of the by-products of science being a human activity. Our field (and probably others) have been influenced by the “sound bite” culture and so catch phrases (keywords, the journals like to call them) are used–often gratuitously–to sell chemistry. We’re all guilty of it to a certain extent, but it is ramping up. I made this very point in a recent report on a paper with over sold claims of the greenness of a “metal free” catalyzed reaction with brutal atom economy and no thought to the persistence of fluoroaryl groups in the environment. The metals used to produce the starting substrates didnt cross my mind, but there’s another one! On the whole, I’d prefer more straightforward reporting of science without all the sales–but that’s not the world we live in.
    Have a great holiday season, Andrei!

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