Highlights from the Annual Main Group Chemistry Meeting


Being a main group chemist myself, it only makes sense that on Friday I attended the Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual Main Group Chemistry Meeting. Held at Queens College, Oxford, the main group chemistry annual meeting is for members of the RSC who do research into main group chemistry, which includes working with elements of both the s- and p-block, to showcase their work and network with people with similar research interests. Main group chemistry is really taking off at the moment, with many compounds being synthesised with interesting and unusual structures and potential useful applications.

Although the main group chemistry interest group may not be one of the biggest, but there is some excellent chemistry being carried out by the research groups involved, and it was a great day of presentations and posters. Plus, Queens College was a stunning backdrop to the day, with all the grandeur you’d expect from an Oxford University building.

Here are some of my highlights:

Phosphine-boranes: a Multi-facet Association by Prof. Didier Bourissou


Compounds containing both phosphorus and boron are becoming increasingly popular, because of the presence of an electron donor and an electron acceptor moiety. These compounds allow for interesting properties, and you might have heard of their use in Frustrated Lewis Pairs, which notable academics such as Doug Stephan have exploited to great effect recently.

In his lecture, Prof. Bourissou described his research group’s use of phosphine-borane ligands to synthesise unusual metal complexes, where the borane moiety allowed for donation from a metal centre back into the ligand. Some of these compounds also allowed for some interesting reactivity with small molecules, and applications for C-C coupling reactions.

I work with phosphorus and boron myself, so this talk was of particular interest to me, but the combination of phosphorus and boron in such compounds is becoming increasingly prevalent in main group chemistry, and this work is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Stable Heteroleptic Alkaline-Earth Complexes: Synthesis and Catalysis of C-P and C-N Bond Formation by Dr Yan Sarazin

Alkaline-earth compounds are becoming more and more popular as of late, due to their increasing number of applications. Compared to many transition metals, alkaline earth metals are cheaper and safer, and so they’re desirable catalysts for many industrial processes.

In his talk, Dr Sarazin described his work synthesising a family of heteroleptic alkaline-earth compounds using aminophenolate, β-diketiminate and imino-anilide ligands. Some members of our research group carry out work synthesising heteroleptic alkaline-earth complexes, so I know firsthand how difficult this can be.

These compounds showed activity as catalysts for both C-P and C-N bond –forming reactions, which are of great use in organic chemistry, and highlights the prospect for compounds of this type to have significant synthetic applications.

Carbene-stabilization of Highly Reactiive Molecules by Prof. Gregory Robinson


This, I could tell, was everyone’s highlight of the day. Greg Robinson is an amazingly successful main group chemist, and his research has been widely acknowledged as being ground-breaking, highly interesting and generally impressive. With publications in Science, JACS, Chem Comm, Angewante Chemie and other high-impact journals, Prof. Robinson has been gaining a great reputation for producing world-class chemistry with his research into the stabilisation of unusual and interesting molecules.

You might have heard of Greg from his synthesis of the first-ever neutral diborene, which was published in JACS in 2007. Molecules of this nature had been predicted computationally, but a stable example had never been successfully synthesised. In his lecture, he described the utilisation of N-heterocyclic carbenes to stabilise this reactive compound. These ligands have been used extensively throughout many areas of inorganic chemistry, from transition metal chemistry to f-block compounds to the main group chemistry described to us on Friday. Greg himself called them the ‘magic powder’ of ligands, as they seem to be capable of stabilising all sorts of interesting and unusual compounds.


Another example of a ground-breaking molecule was his publication in Science in 2008, which described the synthesis of the first ever Si(0)-Si(0) double bond, once again stabilised by N-heterocyclic carbenes. His research group has worked extensively with these ligands to synthesise a whole range of unusual compounds, particularly those containing multiple bonds between main group elements.


This is just the tip of the iceberg of tremendous chemistry that Greg and his group have managed to produce over the years, and I strongly recommend browsing through his publications if you get the chance. Greg himself is a great speaker, and I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture. The main group chemistry interest group committee did a great job getting him as the main speaker for the day, and he really finished off the conference in style.

The feeling on the day was that the main group meeting was a great success, with every presentation offering a great deal of interest and some really beautiful chemistry.

Main group chemistry has been a strong area for many years, and it would seem that this is set to continue. If you have an interest in this area, I would definitely recommend attending next year’s meeting!



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