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Geoffrey Wilkinson

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Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson
Wilkinson, c. 1976
Born(1921-07-14)14 July 1921
Died26 September 1996(1996-09-26) (aged 75)
London, England
Alma materImperial College London (PhD)
Known forHomogeneous transition metal catalysis
Scientific career
FieldsInorganic chemistry
ThesisSome physico-chemical observations on hydrolysis in the homogeneous vapour phase (1946)
Doctoral advisorHenry Vincent Aird Briscoe[2]
Other academic advisorsGlenn T. Seaborg (post doctoral advisor)
Doctoral students
Other notable studentsRichard A. Andersen (postdoc)

Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson FRS[1] (14 July 1921 – 26 September 1996) was a Nobel laureate English chemist who pioneered inorganic chemistry and homogeneous transition metal catalysis.[6][7]

Education and early life[edit]

Wilkinson was born at Springside, Todmorden, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, Henry Wilkinson, was a master house painter and decorator; his mother, Ruth, worked in a local cotton mill. One of his uncles, an organist and choirmaster, had married into a family that owned a small chemical company making Epsom and Glauber's salts for the pharmaceutical industry; this is where he first developed an interest in chemistry.

He was educated at the local council primary school and, after winning a County Scholarship in 1932, went to Todmorden Grammar School. His physics teacher there, Luke Sutcliffe, had also taught Sir John Cockcroft, who received a Nobel Prize for "splitting the atom". In 1939 he obtained a Royal Scholarship for study at Imperial College London, from where he graduated in 1941, with his PhD awarded in 1946 entitled "Some physico-chemical observations of hydrolysis in the homogeneous vapour phase".[8][2][9]

Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3

Career and research[edit]

In 1942 Professor Friedrich Paneth was recruiting young chemists for the nuclear energy project. Wilkinson joined and was sent out to Canada, where he stayed in Montreal and later Chalk River Laboratories until he could leave in 1946. For the next four years he worked with Professor Glenn T. Seaborg at University of California, Berkeley, mostly on nuclear taxonomy.[10] He then became a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and began to return to his first interest as a student – transition metal complexes of ligands such as carbon monoxide and olefins.

He was at Harvard University from September 1951 until he returned to England in December 1955, with a sabbatical break of nine months in Copenhagen. At Harvard, he still did some nuclear work on excitation functions for protons in cobalt, but had already begun to work on olefin complexes.

In June 1955 he was appointed to the chair of Inorganic Chemistry at Imperial College London, and from then on worked almost entirely on the complexes of transition metals.

Structure of ferrocene Fe(C5H5)2

Wilkinson is well known for his popularisation of the use of Wilkinson's catalyst RhCl(PPh3)3 in catalytic hydrogenation, and for the discovery of the structure of ferrocene. Wilkinson's catalyst is used industrially in the hydrogenation of alkenes to alkanes.[11][12]

He supervised PhD students and postdoctoral researchers including John A. Osborn, Alan Davison[3][4] and Malcolm Green.[5]

Awards and honours[edit]

Wilkinson received many awards, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1973[2] for his work on "organometallic compounds" (with Ernst Otto Fischer). He is also well known for writing, with his former doctoral student F. Albert Cotton, "Advanced Inorganic Chemistry", often referred to simply as "Cotton and Wilkinson", one of the standard inorganic chemistry textbooks.[13]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1965.[1] In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Bath. Imperial College London named a new hall of residence after him, which opened in October 2009. Wilkinson Hall is named in his honour.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Wilkinson was married to Lise Schou, a Danish plant physiologist whom he had met at Berkeley. They had two daughters, Anne and Pernille.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Green, M. L. H.; Griffith, W. P. (2000). "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson. 14 July 1921 -- 26 September 1996: Elected 18 March 1965". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 46: 593–606. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0103.
  2. ^ a b c "Geoffrey Wilkinson – Autobiography". nobelprize.org. 11 October 2012. Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b Davison, Alan (1962). Studies on the chemistry of transition metal carbonyls. ethos.bl.uk (PhD thesis). Imperial College London. hdl:10044/1/13205.
  4. ^ a b Green, Malcolm L. H.; Cummins, Christopher C.; Kronauge, James F. (2017). "Alan Davison. 24 March 1936 – 14 November 2015". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 63: 197–213. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2017.0004. ISSN 0080-4606.
  5. ^ a b Green, Malcolm Leslie Hodder Green (1958). A study of some transitional metal hydrides and olefin complexes. london.ac.uk (PhD thesis). Imperial College London.
  6. ^ "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson 1921−1996 IN MEMORIAM". Inorganic Chemistry. 35 (26): 7463–7464. 1996. doi:10.1021/ic961299i.
  7. ^ "Geoffrey Wilkinson Patents". Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2006.
  8. ^ EThOS uk.bl.ethos.587112
  9. ^ Mainz, Vera V.; Girolami, Gregory S. (1988). "GENEALOGY DATABASE ENTRY – Wikinson, Geoffrey" (PDF). scs.illinois.edu.
  10. ^ "Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson | British chemist". 10 July 2023.
  11. ^ Jardine, F.H. (1996). "The Contributions of Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, F.R.S., (1921–1996) to Rhodium Chemistry". Rhodium Express. 16: 4–10. ISSN 0869-7876. Archived from the original on 23 June 2022. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
  12. ^ Osborn, J. A.; Jardine, F. H.; Young, J. F.; Wilkinson, G. (1966). "The Preparation and Properties of Tris(triphenylphosphine)halogenorhodium(I) and Some Reactions Thereof Including Catalytic Homogeneous Hydrogenation of Olefins and Acetylenes and Their Derivatives". Journal of the Chemical Society A: 1711–1732. doi:10.1039/J19660001711.
  13. ^ Cotton, Frank Albert; Wilkinson, Geoffrey; Murillo, Carlos A. (1999). Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. p. 1355. ISBN 9780471199571.
  14. ^ Wilkinson Hall at Imperial College London

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