Robert Eckles Swain Professor in Chemistry Robert Waymouth investigates new catalytic strategies to create useful new molecules, including sustainable polymers, synthetic fuels, and bioactive molecules. In one such breakthrough, Professor Waymouth and IBM researcher Jim Hedrick opened a new path for production of environmentally sustainable plastics and improved plastics recycling, earning recognition in the 2012 Presidential Green Chemistry Award.
Born in 1960 in Warner Robins, Georgia, Robert Waymouth studied chemistry and mathematics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia (B.S. and B.A., respectively, both summa cum laude, 1982). He developed an interest in synthetic and mechanistic organometallic chemistry during his doctoral studies in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology under Professor R.H. Grubbs (Ph.D., 1987). His postdoctoral research with Professor Piero Pino at the Institut fur Polymere, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, focused on catalytic hydrogenation with chiral metallocene catalysts. He joined the Stanford University faculty as assistant professor in 1988, becoming full professor in 1997 and in 2000 the Robert Eckles Swain Professor of Chemistry.
Today, the Waymouth Group applies mechanistic principles to develop new concepts in catalysis, with particular focus on the development of organometallic and organic catalysts for the synthesis of complex macromolecular architectures. In organometallic catalysis, the group devised a highly selective alcohol oxidation catalyst that selectively oxidizes unprotected polyols and carbohydrates to alpha-hyroxyketones. The Waymouth group pioneered the development of catalysts that can access multiple kinetic states during a polymerization reaction in order to control sequence distribution. They devised a novel strategy for the synthesis of elastomeric polypropylene utilizing a metallocene catalyst whose structure was designed to interconvert between chiral and achiral coordination geometries on the timescale of the synthesis of a single polymer chain.
In collaboration with Jim Hedrick of IBM laboratories, the Waymouth Group has developed an extensive platform of organic catalysts for the controlled ring-opening polymerization of lactones, carbonates and other heterocyclic monomers. Mechanistic studies of nucleophilic N-heterocyclic carbene catalysts revealed an unusual zwitterionic ring-opening polymerization method which enabled the synthesis of high molecular weight cyclic polymers, a novel topology for these biodegradable and biocompatible macromolecules. In collaboration with the Wender group, the Waymouth group has devised selective organocatalytic strategies for the synthesis of functional degradable polymers and oligomers that function as "molecular transporters" to deliver drugs and probes into cells. These efforts combine elements of mechanistic organic and organometallic chemistry, polymer synthesis, and homogeneous catalysis to rationally design new macromolecular structures.