Yves Chauvin was a French chemist, member of the French Academy of Science, and a 2005 Nobel Prize laureate (along with Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock) for his contribution to the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis.



· He was born on October 10, 1930, in Menin in the province of West Flanders in Belgium, in 1939 the Chauvin family moved to France. Died on January 28, 2015 in France.

· In 1954, he graduated from the Lyon School of Chemistry, Physics, and Electronics. Chauvin's entire scientific career is linked to the French Petroleum Institute in Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris. The chemist started his career at the Institute in 1960 as an engineer, later becoming the Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Catalysis, and in 1991 taking the position of Director of Research. Yves Chauvin spent his final years in retirement while retaining an Honorary Director position at the Institute.

· In addition to the Nobel Prize, Chauvin's work has won other awards, such as the French Petrochemical Association award (1990) and the Carl Engler Medal from the DGMK Deutsche Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Erdöl, Erdgas und Kohle (1994).


Nobel Prize-winning discovery

In 1971, Chauvin deciphered the process of metathesis, conducted the first synthesis and found the catalysts of this reaction: transition metal complexes.

The metathesis reaction is also known as the exchange reaction. The essence of the reaction is that when two olefin molecules interact (hydrocarbons containing double bonds, e.g., ethylene, butene), they exchange the framing organic groups in a process that is sometimes called disproportionation.

The reaction was first described in the 1950s, and ever since, many chemists have tried to explain the process by the formation of various cyclic transition complexes. But it was Chauvin who described the real mechanism of metathesis in 1971. He found that the main role in the process is played by metal carbens, a compound formed in the reaction system where the metal atom has a double bond to carbon. The scheme described by Chauvin includes the stage of formation of a four-membered transition complex where olefin and the metal carbene catalyst are combined.

The catalyst molecule is attached to the original olefin molecule, and a ring of four atoms bound by single bonds is formed. At the next step, the ring opens, and double bonds are formed again, but this time between other carbon atoms.

This produces a different olefin and a slightly modified catalyst.

The latter reacts with the original olefin, and the process is repeated.

The scientist was able to verify the mechanism in practice by comparing the composition of the resulting products, in addition, he achieved the rearrangement of butene in the presence of a catalytic system, which was supposed to specifically form metal carbene in the reaction medium.

In the 1980s-1990s, this mechanism, later known in research literature as the Chauvin mechanism, became the focus of additional research by American chemists Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock, who together with Yves Chauvin, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005.

His description of olefin metathesis has opened up new opportunities in organic synthesis where some reactions cannot be carried out in any other way. New methods of synthesis were a breakthrough for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as the resulting elements were more stable, as well as environmentally cleaner.


Life and Work: biography facts

· Immediately after learning of his Nobel Prize win, Yves Chauvin said that he would decline it as he believed that he only informed the direction of research, and all credit should go to Grubbs and Schrock. In the end, he did accept the Prize.

· Yves Chauvin was a rare Nobel laureate whose career was built in the industry and not in research institutions, he achieved his success without a doctorate degree. "I had no special training for research, in a way, I taught myself," said the chemist in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

· After providing a description of metathesis in the early 1970s, Chauvin made a departure from the field, in the later decades focusing his work on applied matters of the petroleum industry.

· In his interviews, Chauvin said that his motto is "If you want to find something new, look for something new!" and lamented the somewhat conservative nature of science and researchers' fear of trying something unknown.

· One of the two sons of the Nobel laureate, Remi Chauvin, is also a chemist whose research is focused on alkene metathesis.

· In his autobiography on the Nobel Prize website Yves Chauvin talked about spending holidays in his grandparents’ family house in the little village of Beaumont-la-Ronce with his numerous cousins, and about his hope to be buried in the village cemetery.