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Olefin Metathesis

What is Olefin Metathesis?

Olefin metathesis is a chemical reaction that involves the redistribution of carbon-carbon double bonds in alkenes (olefins) to produce new compounds with different carbon-carbon double bond connectivity.

Olefin Metathesis

This process is catalyzed by metal complexes, commonly based on ruthenium, molybdenum, or tungsten

Olefin metathesis plays a key role in organic synthesis, offering a powerful tool for the formation and transformation of carbon-carbon double bonds.

Historical Development : Early Days and Contributions

In the 1960s, researchers like Chauvin, Grubbs, and Schrock made groundbreaking discoveries that laid the foundation for the development of olefin metathesis. Their early work revealed the potential of this chemical reaction in various fields.

Chauvin’s research was about how metal complexes help with olefin metathesis. He found that metal carbene intermediates are important in the reaction.

This discovery opened up new possibilities for manipulating carbon-carbon double bonds.

Grubbs improved Chauvin’s work by making better catalysts for olefin reactions. His ideas changed the field and made it easier to use this reaction in chemistry.

Schrock’s Scientists studied transition metal catalysts to learn more about olefin metathesis. They found that molybdenum-based catalysts can help with different types of metathesis reactions, even ones that are difficult because of their shape.

More scientists studied olefin metathesis and found ways to make it better. Hérisson-Landais found that some things can make it work even better. Katz also made better catalysts using ruthenium.

Today, olefin metathesis is widely used across various industries, including pharmaceuticals, polymers, and fine chemicals production.

It has become an indispensable tool for chemists seeking efficient ways to construct complex molecules or modify existing ones.

Metal Carbenes: 

Metal carbenes play a crucial role in the fascinating world of olefin metathesis.

These compounds act as intermediates, facilitating the breaking and forming of carbon-carbon double bonds during the reaction. Understanding their structure and reactivity is essential for harnessing their potential as catalysts.


Breaking and Forming Carbon-Carbon Double Bonds

In olefin metathesis, metal carbenes act as key players in breaking existing carbon-carbon double bonds and forming new ones. They undergo a complex dance, where they interact with alkenes to create new molecules with different arrangements of carbon atoms.

This process enables the synthesis of a wide range of valuable compounds.

Types of Metal Carbenes Used as Catalysts

  • Fischer carbenes
  • Schrock carbenes
  • Grubbs carbenes
  • N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs)
  • Allenylidene carbenes
  • Alkylidene carbenes

Various types of metal carbenes have been employed as catalysts in olefin metathesis reactions. One notable example is tungsten carbene, which has shown excellent catalytic activity in transforming pentene into butene and propylene.

Another well-known catalyst is ruthenium carbene, which has demonstrated remarkable efficiency in promoting the formation of various alkene derivatives.

Structure and Reactivity Insights

Understanding the structure and reactivity of metal carbenes is crucial for designing more efficient catalysts.

Researchers have explored different strategies to stabilize these reactive species, leading to the development of isolable metal carbenes that can be used under mild reaction conditions.

By studying their behavior, scientists can gain insights into how these compounds interact with other molecules and improve catalytic performance.

Reactivity Matrix for Cross Metathesis:

Insights into Grubbs Group Catalysts:

Grubbs group catalysts are widely used in cross metathesis reactions. These catalysts play a crucial role in facilitating the rearrangement of carbon-carbon double bonds, allowing for the formation of new carbon-carbon bonds.

To optimize the performance of these catalysts, researchers have developed a reactivity matrix that provides insights into their selectivity and efficiency.

The reactivity matrix takes into account various factors that influence the performance of Grubbs group catalysts in cross metathesis reactions.

One such factor is steric hindrance, which refers to how bulky or crowded certain parts of the reactants are.

Steric hindrance can affect the accessibility of the reactants to the active sites on the catalyst and, consequently, impact reaction rates and selectivity.

Another important factor is electronic effects, which involve changes in electron distribution within molecules. These effects can influence how reactive certain functional groups are towards metathesis reactions.

For example, electron-withdrawing groups can decrease reactivity, while electron-donating groups can enhance it.

Substrate size plays a significant role in determining reactivity. Larger substrates may experience more steric hindrance and reduced accessibility to catalytic sites compared to smaller ones.

To make Grubbs group catalysts work better in cross metathesis reactions, scientists can adjust their properties. They can change the ligands or other parts of the catalysts to make them more effective and selective..

Industrial Applications of Olefin Metathesis in Organic Synthesis

Olefin metathesis, a versatile chemical reaction, finds numerous applications in industrial organic synthesis. Let’s explore some of the key areas where this reaction is utilized.

Pharmaceutical Drug Synthesis

Olefin metathesis plays a crucial role in the synthesis of pharmaceutical drugs. It enables chemists to create complex molecular structures more efficiently and with greater precision. By using olefin metathesis reactions, researchers can produce specific drug molecules that exhibit enhanced therapeutic properties.

Pharmaceutical Drug Synthesis

This method has revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry by providing a powerful tool for drug discovery and development.

Specialty Chemicals Production

The ability of olefin metathesis to selectively transform one type of olefin into another makes it invaluable in producing specialty chemicals.

Chemists can make special chemicals by choosing the right starting materials and controlling how they react. This makes compounds that have the qualities they want, like being stable or reactive. The versatility of olefin metathesis reactions makes them an essential tool in developing advanced materials, catalysts, and other specialty chemicals.

Sustainable Manufacturing Processes

Olefin metathesis aligns with the principles of sustainable manufacturing through its application of atom economy.

Atom economy refers to maximizing the utilization of atoms present in reactants to minimize waste generation during chemical reactions.

Olefin metathesis reactions are highly atom-efficient since they involve rearranging carbon-carbon double bonds without generating significant byproducts. This contributes to greener and more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.

Industrial-Scale Polymer Production

Olefin metathesis reactions have enabled the industrial-scale production of polymers with tailored properties.

By using different types of olefins as monomers and employing appropriate catalysts, manufacturers can control factors such as molecular weight, branching, and stereochemistry to produce polymers with specific characteristics.

This has opened up new avenues in the development of advanced materials for various applications, including plastics, coatings, adhesives, and more.

Experimental Support for the Metal Carbene Mechanism: Grubbs and Schrock’s Contributions

Grubbs and Schrock discovered metal carbenes in olefin metathesis. They showed that these carbenes are important and studied them.

Their discovery led to new catalysts, the Grubbs and Schrock catalysts, which are now well-known and work well for olefin metathesis.

Researchers studied the reaction kinetics and intermediates to confirm the metal carbene mechanism. This mechanism creates metal carbene species that can break and form carbon-carbon double bonds. Grubbs and Schrock found that traditional mechanisms couldn’t explain everything about olefin metathesis reactions. They discovered metal carbenes, which supported the metal carbene mechanism as another way for these reactions to happen.

In the lab, scientists used different ways to make these special metal carbenes. They used certain molecules to help keep the bond between the metal and the carbene stable. They also used specific chemicals to start the process.

These methods helped them see and learn more about these hard-to-find substances.

Grubbs and Schrock’s discoveries in it  helped us understand how it works and led to many uses in making new organic compounds. These findings changed the way chemists make complex molecules and gave them more control over how the molecules look.



You’ve now journeyed through the fascinating world of olefin metathesis, exploring its historical development, key players like metal carbenes, and various applications in organic synthesis. Along the way, you’ve gained insights into Grubbs Group catalysts’ reactivity matrix and learned about experimental support for the metal carbene mechanism from influential chemists like Grubbs, Schrock, Katz, and their advancements in tantalum chemistry.

By learning about it , you’ve learned how it has changed organic chemistry. Chemists use it like architects use tools to make complex molecules.

Now, you can keep exploring this field. If you’re interested in chemistry or science, read more papers or talk to experts. Follow your curiosity and find new things!


What are some real-world applications of olefin metathesis?

Olefin metathesis finds numerous applications across industries. It is widely used in pharmaceutical research for synthesizing complex drug molecules efficiently. It plays a crucial role in polymer chemistry by enabling the creation of specialized materials such as self-healing polymers and biocompatible coatings. Furthermore, olefin metathesis is utilized in fine chemical synthesis for producing flavors, fragrances, and advanced materials like liquid crystals.

Can I perform olefin metathesis reactions at home?

Olefin metathesis reactions typically require specialized equipment and expertise due to their sensitivity to air and moisture. Therefore, attempting these reactions at home without proper training can be hazardous. It is recommended to conduct such experiments in a controlled laboratory environment under the guidance of experienced chemists.

Are there any limitations or challenges associated with olefin metathesis?

While olefin metathesis has revolutionized organic synthesis, it does have some limitations. For example, certain functional groups can interfere with the reaction or lead to side reactions. Catalyst stability and selectivity can pose challenges in complex molecule synthesis. However, ongoing research continues to address these limitations and expand the scope of olefin metathesis reactions.

How does olefin metathesis contribute to sustainability?

Olefin metathesis offers significant benefits in terms of sustainability. By enabling more efficient chemical transformations, it reduces waste generation and energy consumption compared to traditional synthetic methods. It allows for the use of renewable feedstocks and facilitates the development of greener processes in industries such as pharmaceuticals and materials science.

What are some future developments we can expect in olefin metathesis?

The field of olefin metathesis is constantly evolving. Researchers are exploring new catalyst systems with enhanced reactivity and selectivity to tackle previously challenging transformations. Furthermore, efforts are being made to expand its applicability to different types of substrates beyond traditional olefins. With continued advancements, we can anticipate further breakthroughs that will broaden the scope and impact of this powerful synthetic tool.


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