In 1877, Charles Friedel and James Craft discovered a chemical reaction for quickly producing raw materials for plastics, fine chemicals and detergents. More than 100 years later, in 1994, the American George Olah won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for understanding the mechanism behind this important reaction. This is also how it has been described in Chemistry textbooks for almost 30 years.
However, recently some chemists claimed the Nobel Prize winning reaction mechanism doesn’t always apply. Now, chemists at Utrecht University refute this claim. They managed to detect the two most important reaction intermediates from Olah’s reaction mechanism in the situation under debate. Olah, who passed away in March, has now received posthumous confirmation. The results of the study will be published online in Nature Catalysis on 20 November.
The reaction intermediates of this process are known as the Wheland complex and the pi complex. These molecular fragments lead a short life, as they are quickly converted into the next reaction intermediate in the process or into the end product. In order to understand this process, or more importantly, to control it, it is essential to know whether the reaction does indeed progress through these reaction intermediates.