Institut für Anorganische Chemie

Schlenk Lecture at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

This official biennial University event is intended to memorialize and honor both the outstanding scientific achievements of Professor Wilhelm Johann Schlenk (1879-1943), and his extraordinary civil courage in resisting Nazi initiatives in German academia. The Schlenk Lecture was initiated by the local Chemistry Department in 2011, in cooperation with BASF-SE. The ceremonial Lecture is coupled to a Guest Professorship sponsored by BASF. The awardee is selected for outstanding mechanistic work in the field of organometallic chemistry. Schlenk, as well as the individuals honored in his name, provide exemplary role models for both ambitious young colleagues and experienced practitioners of organometallic chemistry alike.

Biannually, the Schlenk-Lecture selection committee, chaired by Prof. Dr. Reiner Anwander, awards the Schlenk lectureship for outstanding research and contributions to the field of mechanistic metalorganic chemistry. The awardee is honored for his/her life's time achievement in order to set an example for the future generation of scientists pursuing research in this area.

For further information, see:
(1) T. T. Tidwell, Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. 2001, 40, 331; Angew. Chem. 2001, 113, 343.
(2) D. Seyferth, Organometallics 2009, 28, 2.
(3) R. Anwander, Nachr. Chem. 2011, 59, 951.
(4) J. A. Gladysz, R. Anwander, Organometallics 2012, 31, 773.

Schlenk's Work

Although Schlenk’s life as an academic chemist was shorter than most today, he left an enduring legacy which will be given renewed impetus through the Schlenk Lecture. Wilhelm Schlenk, a true pioneer of metalorganic chemistry, is probably most famous for the development of organolithium compounds which are in common use today. He also made parallel contributions to organosodium chemistry, and prepared and characterized several now-classic organic radicals, radical anions, and diradicals. In the course of these efforts, the “Schlenk flask” familiar to virtually every chemistry graduate student today was developed. The following box schematically summarizes some of his major scientific achievements:

A) “Trivalent carbon” tris(4-biphenylyl)methyl: isolation as a graphite-black single-crystalline material, a derivative of Gomberg`s triphenylmethan.
B) Elucidation of the radical nature of the ketyl radical formed from sodium and benzophenone (characteristic blue color), first prepared by Beckman and Paul.
C) Synthesis of disodium anthracene, probably the first metalorganic compound, which has been isolated in Schlenk´s laboratory.
D) Schlenk´s hydrocarbon: isolation of the first  stable diradical.
E) and F) Methyllithium and Ethyllithium: synthesis and isolation of the simplest organolithium compounds.
G) Isolation of highly explosive sodium hydrazide.
H) and I) Metalation of hydrocarbons (here fluorene) by organolithium and -sodium compounds.
J) The “Schlenk equilibrium” prevailing among Grignard and Grignard-type reagents.

Schlenk in Tübingen

The final years of Wilhelm Schlenk’s life were spent in the small Swabian town of Tübingen.  Due to his democratic convictions and refusal to collaborate with the Nazis, Schlenk was forced to leave his post in Berlin and take up a professorship in Tübingen in 1935. At this time, all of his seminal works on the organometallic compounds of the alkaline and alkaline earth metals had already been published. Despite Schlenk’s status as a very well-established chemist who had been nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, his time in Tübingen was filled more with administrative tasks than with scientific work, although he was also known to be passionate about teaching. Before he passed away at the age of 64, Wilhelm Schlenk summarized his time in Tübingen positively and is fondly remembered to this day, not only for his theoretical and practical contributions to organometallic chemistry, but also for his moral integrity.

Schlenk Lecture Awardees

Laurel L. Schafer (2021)

…  “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of early transition metal-catalyzed addition of amines to alkenes”

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Kazushi Mashima (2019)

Osaka University, Japan

… “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of salt-free reduction of transition-metal complexes”

Osaka University, Japan

Sjoerd Harder (2017)

… „in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of organo-alkaline-earth-metal chemistry”

 Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany

Philip Mountford (2015)

... „in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of titanium imide and hydrazide chemistry”

University of Oxford, UK

Kyoko Nozaki (2013)

... “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the copolymerization of functional monomers”

University of Tokyo, Japan

Warren E. Piers (2011)

... „in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the chemistry of highly electrophilic boranes"

University of Calgary, Canada