In research funded by the ERC and now reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Dr Michael Cowley and postdoctoral researcher Dr Andryj Borys have developed a new and widely applicable synthetic route to a broad class of compounds called phospha-alkenes.
The reaction is a twist on the classical Wittig reaction, which is widely used in organic synthesis for the preparation of alkenes. This new work promotes phosphorus from helpful assistant in the Wittig reaction – used to remove oxygen to create the alkene C=C double bond – to central character – taking the place of one carbon to create the P=C double bond of phospha-alkenes.
The replacement results in more reactive and highly-coloured compounds which have useful properties but have hitherto been challenging to prepare. This simpler and more general synthetic access to phospha-alkenes will accelerate research into their use in catalysis (reducing the energy cost of chemical synthesis) and as opto-electronically active materials for low-energy displays and solar power generation.