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William D. Jones

  • (he/him/his)
  • Charles F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry

PhD, California Institute of Technology, 1979

B26 Hutchison Hall
(585) 275-5493


Research Overview

Professor Jones's group is involved in the study of transition metal organometallic compounds for the cleavage of strong carbon-element bonds, with synthesis, structure, and reactivity being integral components of each project. New complexes for carrying out organometallic reactions are developed and the mechanism of the reaction is studied as a means of improving reactivity. NMR spectroscopic studies figure heavily in their work as a probe of organometallic structure.

One area that has been developed in the group over the past few years involves complexes that can activate C-H bonds of unreactive aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Through a series of kinetic studies, the relative thermodynamics of arene vs. alkane activation by the 16-electron intermediate [(trispyrazolylborate)Rh(CNR)] has been established. The studies show that alkanes first bind to the metal before undergoing cleavage of their C-H bonds, and that the metal wanders along the hydrocarbon chain before choosing which bond to break. We can also tell that methylenes bind faster than methyls.

Another area that is under active pursuit is the modeling of the hydrodesulfurization of petroleum using homogeneous complexes of rhodium. A simple, quantitative reaction has been discovered in which the C-S bond of thiophene is cleaved, giving a characterizable intermediate (see equation). Recent work has also shown that even the strong C-C bonds connecting aromatic rings can be cleaved. Studies indicate that the cleavage of 4-membered rings is facile and that cleavage of aryl-cyanide and aryl-acetylide bonds is possible using complexes of nickel, platinum, and rhodium. Catalytic hydrogenolysis of certain C-C bonds is even possible. New studies with hemi-labile P-N ligands have indicated that this approach leads to compounds with enhanced reactivities towards bond cleavage reactions. Catalytic reactions are under development. We are studying the mechanism of nickel-based allylic C-CN cleavage as it applies to the production of adiponitrile in Dupont's nylon synthesis. We have published over many papers on these topics in the last 5 years (see group website).

Fig. 1


William D. Jones was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1953, and was inspired to work in inorganic chemistry as an undergraduate researcher with Mark S. Wrighton at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BS, 1975). He obtained a Ph.D. degree in chemistry at California Institute of Technology (1979), working with Robert G. Bergman. He moved to the University of Wisconsin as an NSF postdoctoral fellow with Chuck Casey, and in 1980 accepted a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Rochester. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1984 and Professor in 1987, and is now the Charles F. Houghton Professor of Chemistry. Professor Jones has received several awards, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (1984), a Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award (1985), a Royal Society Guest Research Fellowship (1988), a Fulbright-Hays Scholar (1988), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow (1988), the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry (2003), an ACS Cope Scholar Award (2009), the Royal Society of Chemistry Organometallic Chemistry Award (2017), and an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award (2018). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009), and a Fellow of the American Chemical Society (2010). He also has served as an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society since 2003. Professor Jones' research interests include organometallic research in strong C-X bond cleavage, catalysis, model studies, mechanisms, kinetics, thermodynamics, and synthetic applications.

Recent Publications

Tarah A. DiBenedetto, Astrid M. Parsons, William D. Jones Markovnikov-Selective Hydroboration of Olefins Catalyzed by a Copper N-Heterocyclic Carbene Complex Organometallics, 2019

Jing Yuwen, William W. Brennessel, William D. Jones Coordination or Oxidative Addition? Activation of N–H with [Tp′Rh(PMe3)] Inorganic Chemistry, 2019

Astrid M. Parsons, William D. Jones Photolysis of Tp′Rh(CNneopentyl)(PhNCNneopentyl) in the presence of ketones and esters: kinetic and thermodynamic selectivity for activation of different aliphatic C–H bonds Dalton Transactions, 2019

Hongmei Yuan, William W. Brennessel, William D. Jones Effect of Carboxylate Ligands on Alkane Dehydrogenation with (dmPhebox)Ir Complexes ACS Catalysis, 2018

Jia Guan, Alisdair Wriglesworth, Xue Zhong Sun, Edward N. Brothers, Snežana D. Zarić, et al. Probing the Carbon–Hydrogen Activation of Alkanes Following Photolysis of Tp′Rh(CNR)(carbodiimide): A Computational and Time-Resolved Infrared Spectroscopic Study Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2018

Naveen V. Kulkarni, William W. Brennessel, William D. Jones Catalytic Upgrading of Ethanol to n-Butanol via Manganese-Mediated Guerbet Reaction ACS Catalysis, 2018

Lloyd Munjanja, Hongmei Yuan, William W. Brennessel, William D. Jones Synthesis, characterization, and reactivity of Cp*Rh(III) complexes having functional N,O chelate ligands Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, 2017

Miles Wilklow-Marnell, William W. Brennessel, William D. Jones C(sp2)–F Oxidative Addition of Fluorinated Aryl Ketones by iPrPCPIr Organometallics, 2017

Miles Wilklow-Marnell, Bo Li, Tian Zhou, Karsten Krogh-Jespersen, William W. Brennessel, et al. Catalytic Dehydrogenative C–C Coupling by a Pincer-Ligated Iridium Complex Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2017

Sarina M. Bellows, Sumit Chakraborty, J. Brannon Gary, William D. Jones, Thomas R. Cundari An Uncanny Dehydrogenation Mechanism: Polar Bond Control over Stepwise or Concerted Transition States Inorganic Chemistry, 2017

For more, please visit my ORCID Profile