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A Perspective Distilled from Seventy Years of Research

Roberts, John D. (2009) A Perspective Distilled from Seventy Years of Research. Journal of Organic Chemistry, 74 (14). pp. 4897-4917. ISSN 0022-3263.

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Physical organic chemistry might be regarded as officially recognized as a distinct discipline through the publication of L. P. Hammett’s book of that title, although substantial earlier work can be traced back to the turn of the 20th century. Many of the instrumental tools that helped the discipline develop in so many different ways began to appear in the late thirties and during World War II and were soon built to be increasingly operated in the “hands-on” mode. This development became very popular in academia, where instruments are not operated for you by an expert, but even if you are an undergraduate, you can more or less be the expert yourself and take many varieties of data on instruments usually available on a 24 h basis. It has been my privilege and joy to begin research in chemistry just as these waves of change began to grow and to savor the great contribution that the new methods, such as measurement of 14C, UV−vis, IR, NMR, and hands-on use of computers, made in facilitating our research programs at MIT and later at Caltech. Among those programs, which will be discussed, were 14C tracing of carbocation rearrangements and benzyne formation, electrical effects of substituents, Grignard reagents, synthesis of small-ring compounds, (2 + 2) cycloaddition reactions of halogenated ethylenes, assisting in development of ^(19)F, ^(13)C, and ^(15)N NMR for conformational analysis, other structural, kinetic, and tracer studies, as well as helping through textbooks to bring Hückel MO theory and the elements of NMR to familiarity for organic chemists. From the very beginning of my research career, I have been the beneficiary of personal mentoring which has been very crucial to my success in research and is an important theme in what follows.

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Additional Information:Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society. Received March 26, 2009. Publication Date (Web): June 24, 2009. Published In Issue July 17, 2009 I am deeply grateful to the undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty and industry who contributed to the success of the research projects discussed in this article and to the silent majority whose work had to be omitted because of space limitations. Caltech has helped me in innumerable ways, besides providing a marvelous team of illustrious and supportive colleagues and also offering the chance to continue productively far beyond the normal span of an academic career. There have also been very supportive agencies: the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Petroleum Research Fund, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and private donors. Most notably among the latter are Chester and Olive McCloskey through NORAC, their chemical company, the E.I. DuPont Company, as well as my wife, Edith Roberts, who contributed not only financially but, of course, in countless other ways as well. The preparation of this article was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CHE-0543620. Special thanks to Jeff Seeman and the staff of The Journal of Organic Chemistry, particularly Shawn Darby, for their help for getting the manuscript over a number of hurdles, to Danielle Reuter for her artistic cover design, and to Allen W. Roberts for skillfully putting together the Supporting Information. All photos in the Supporting Information copyright John D. Roberts with the exception of Crowell, Whitmore, Simmons, Weigert, and McConnell (unknown photographers) and Streitwieser (Andrew Streitwieser, photographer). All the photographs on the cover were taken by John D. Roberts, California Institute of Technology. Supporting Information: Photographs of key mentors and various pieces of equipment. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at
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ID Code:15378
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:11 Sep 2009 23:35
Last Modified:28 Mar 2014 22:22

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