Department of Chemistry



John Cooper

Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry


221 Eberly
Chevron Science Center
219 Parkman Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Research Overview

Organotransition Metal and Inorganic Chemistry

Research projects within our group are in the broad areas of synthetic and mechanistic organotransition metal and inorganic chemistry, with emphases on developments that have implications for the application of transition metal reagents to organic synthes is, to the development of new inorganic materials with potentially useful electro-optical properties, and to homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. Most projects involve the synthesis, purification and characterization of air sensitive compounds, and key analytical techniques include 1H and 13C NMR, IR, EPR and UV-vis spectroscopies, and X-ray crystallography. Mechanistic studies use many of the classical techniques of physical organic chemistry, including trapping of transient intermediates and monitoring the distribution of isotopic labels using IR, 1H and 13C NMR, and mass spectroscopy.

One of the principal focuses for research within the group is the synthesis of highly reduced complexes of the early transition metals with unsaturated ligands such as arenes, cyclopentadienyls, carbenes and isonitriles. Our hypothesis has been that the p-acceptor capabilities of such ligands enable them to form stable complexes with many transition metals in negative oxidation states, and recent successes include the characterization of carbene and h4-arene complexes of Cr(-II), isonitrile complexes of Co(-I), Ru(-II) and Mn(-I), and h4-arene complexes of Mn(-I).

Our current emphasis in this area is on the way in which low oxidation state metals activate unsaturated ligands, and a particularly important observation has been that 2-electron reduction of [Mn(h6-C6H6)(CO)3]+, a p-benzene complex of Mn(I), forms a reactive h4-arene complex of Mn(-I) in which the benzene ring is the locus of reactivity because reactions on the ring can release the energy stored by the ring distortion. This has lead to the discovery of a number of new C-C bond forming reactions of benzene, including the unprecedented addition of a ketene to the activated arene and the first example (albeit by an indirect route) of [2 + 2] dimerization of benzene.

We are also interested in determining the mechanisms of reactions of hydrocarbon ligands in early transition metal complexes. Our key advance in this area has been the development of a versatile route to tungstenocene complexes in which differential substitution of the cyclopentadienyl ligands renders the metal center chiral, so that the intimate mechanistic details of insertion reactions can be explored by monitoring the stereochemistry at the metal.

Our third area of research is the use of the unique optical and electronic properties of transition metal complexes in electro-optical devices. We are, for example, exploring the use of the wavelength dependent photochromism of d1-d1 transition metal dimers with linear oxo bridges in optical memory systems, and are developing syntheses of complexes likely to have unusual and useful non-linear optical properties in which transition metal based donors and acceptors are connected through fused arene bridges.


  • Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 1982-86
  • RSC Corday Morgan Medalist for 1984


“Highly Reduced Carbene Complexes: Formation of an Alkoxymalonate by Coupling of Carbon Dioxide with the Nucleophilic Carbene in [Cr(CO)4{=C(OMe)Ph}]2-,” S. Lee and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc 1990, 112, 9419
“[2 + 2] Cyclodimerization of Ligated Benzene Following Reductive Activation of [Mn(h6-C6H6)(CO)3]+ to give 4-C6H6-h4-C6H6}]2-,” R. L. Thompson, S. J. Geib and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc 1991, 113, 8961
“(Isocyanide) Ruthenate Analogues of Tetracarbonyl Ferrate,” J. A. Corella II, R. A. Thompson and N. J. Cooper, Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. Engl. 1992, 31, 83
“Synthesis and Structural Characterization of [Co{CN(2,” P. A. Leach, S. J. Geib, J. A. Corella II, G. F. Warnock and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc 1994, 116, 8566
“[2 + 2 + 2] Addition of Diphenylketene to the Reductively Activated Benzene in the Transition Metal Complex [Mn(h4-C6H6)(CO)3]- to give a Dihy droisochroman-3-one,” S. Lee, S. J. Geib and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1995, 117, 9572
“Reductively Induced Dimerization of the Ligated Benzene in [Mn(h6-C6H6)(CO)3]+: Formation of the Initial C-C bond by Anion/Cation Addition,” S. Lee, S. R. Lovelace, D. J. Arford, S. J. Geib, S. G. Weber and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1996, 118, 4190
“Addition of Iminium Salts to the Reductively Activated Benzene in [Mn(h4-C6H6(CO)3]-,” S.-H. Ko Park, S. J. Geib, and N. J. Cooper, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1997, 119, 8365