Chemists at the University of California, Riverside have accomplished in the lab what until now was considered impossible: transform a family of compounds which are acids into bases.
As our chemistry lab sessions have taught us, acids are substances that taste sour and react with metals and bases (bases are the chemical opposite of acids). For example, compounds of the element boron are acidic while nitrogen and phosphorus compounds are basic.
The research, reported in the July 29 issue of Science
, makes possible a vast array of chemical reactions - such as those used in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, manufacturing new materials, and research academic institutions.
"The result is totally counterintuitive," said Guy Bertrand, a distinguished professor of chemistry, who led the research. "When I presented preliminary results from this research at a conference recently, the audience was incredulous, saying this was simply unachievable. But we have achieved it. We have transformed boron compounds into nitrogen-like compounds. In other words, we have made acids behave like bases."
Bertrand's lab at UC Riverside specializes on catalysts. A catalyst is a substance - usually a metal to which ions or compounds are bound - that facilitates or allows a chemical reaction, but is neither consumed nor altered by the reaction itself. Crucial to the reaction's success, a catalyst is like the car engine enabling an uphill drive. While only about 30 metals are used to form catalysts, the binding ions or molecules, called ligands, can number in the millions, allowing for numerous catalysts. Currently, the majority of these ligands are nitrogen- or phosphorus-based.