Thomas B. Rauchfuss

 Thomas Rauchfuss

Contact Information

Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois
A328 CLSL, Box 12-6
600 South Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Larry Faulkner Research Professor of Chemistry
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Professor Thomas B. Rauchfuss received his undergraduate degree from the University of Puget Sound (1971) and his Ph.D. from Washington State University (1976). He has studied overseas at the following institutions: the Australian National University, University of Auckland, University of Strasbourg, and the Technical University of Karlsruhe. He is interested in all aspects of the synthesis and reactivity of inorganic, organometallic, and main-group compounds and materials.

Research Interests

  • synthetic organometallic and inorganic chemistry applied to biomimetic catalysis, ion separation, and dihydrogen activation

Research Description

We are interested in all aspects of the synthesis and reactivity of inorganic, organo-metallic, and main-group compounds and materials.             

A major interest for our group is environmentally-motivated organometallic chemistry. We are interested in fundamental studies leading to clean fuels. One aspect of this research is the elucidation of nature's methods for making H2, which involves the use of unusual enzymes called hydrogenases. Weworking to simulate a range of structural and reactivity features of these enzymes. These studies include classical organometallic approaches as well as collaborative efforts involving the proteins.  An emerging area of interest is the biosynthesis of the active sites.  Other interests include the role of metals in nitrogen fixation, carbonylation enzymes, and methanogenesis.

Because most energy is generated from petroleum, we are interested in new catalysts for removing sulfur from this feedstock. Fundamental issues include the detailed mechanisms of C—S bond cleavage (to separate the sulfur from the organic matrix) and the synthesis of novel compounds as catalysts. A key aspect of C—S bond cleaving reactions is the role of H2. One can appreciate that studies on bioinorganic and industrial chemistry overlap significantly, and we feel there are important lessons to be exchanged between these otherwise disparate themes.

An area of past interest is the design of organometallic boxes, bowls, and tubes. These fundamental structures represent the ultimate nanoscale containers, but rational routes for their synthesis remains a frontier of synthesis. Representative products of this effort are a rhodium-containing bowl based on seven Rh atoms interconnected by nine cyanides, molecular boxes with metals at the corners. The molecular boxes selectively bind alkali metals (at their center) such that the binding of Cs+ is favored over the binding of K+ by more than 104-fold. This selectivity illustrates the advantages of the rigid frameworks versus the usual organic heterocyclic ligands. We are making progress in the synthesis of electroactive cages for sensors and in understanding and controlling the cage assembly processes.

Distinctions / Awards

  • Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of lnorganic Chemistry (ACS), 2018
  • Ronald Nyholm Prize (Royal Society of Chemistry), 2014
  • Award in Inorganic Chemistry (ACS), 2002
  • Fellow American Chemical Society, 2009
  • Fellow Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000
  • Senior U.S. Scientist Award (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation), 1998
  • Fellow Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 1997
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 1991
  • Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, 1983
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, 1982
  • Union Carbide Innovation Award, 1981

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Direct Observation of an Iron-Bound Terminal Hydride in [FeFe]-Hydrogenase by Nuclear Resonance Vibrational Spectroscopy J. Am. Chem. Soc. 139 2017, p. 4306-4309.


Diiron Azadithiolates as Models for the [FeFe]-Hydrogenase Active Site and Paradigm for the Role of the Second Coordination Sphere", Rauchfuss, T. B. by Thomas Rauchfuss. Acc. Chem. Res. 48 Source Author Thomas Rauchfuss, 2015, p. 2107-2116. URL.
Schilter, Dr. David Hydrogenase Enzymes and Their Synthetic Models: The Role of Metal Hydrides Chem. Rev. 116 2016, p. 8693-8749.