Robert Grubbs – developer of metathesis reaction, Grubbs' catalyst

Robert Grubbs – developer of metathesis reaction

Article on Robert Grubbs

Biography & Contributions

Robert Grubbs [Robert H. Grubbs] is an American chemist and Nobel laureateborn on February 27, 1942

Awards & Medals

1975-78, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

2000, ACS Herman F. Mark Polymer Chemistry Award

2002, Tolman Medal

2005, Nobel Prize

Grubbs’s main interests include

Organometallic chemistry


He developed

  • Grubbs' catalyst
  • Living polymerization method
  • Olefin metathesis organic reactions

Metathesis reactions

Metathesis reactions also termed as exchange reactions. Metathesis is one of the most spectacular recent improvements in synthetic strategies for organic synthesis and polymer science.


Reactions in which the products are formed by the exchange of the ions present in the two reactants

Metathesis reactions not only take place among ionic compounds, they occur among other compounds such as Sigma Bond Metathesis and Olifin Metathesis. Metathesis reaction is a type of chemical reactions, which include combination, decomposition, and displacement.

Example 1]

NaCl(s) + 12 H2O [Na(H2O)6]+ + [Cl(H2O)6]-

Example 2]

AgNO3(s) + 12 H2O [Ag(H2O)6]+ + [NO3(H2O)6]-

Example 3]

MgCl2 (aq) + 2 NaOH (aq) --> Mg(OH)2 (s) + 2 NaCl (aq)

Metathesis mechanism

In the above example reaction between MgCl2 and NaOH, magnesium ion was originally paired with the chloride ion on the reactant side of the equation while the sodium ion was originally paired with the hydroxide ion.

Ions exchanging will take place between magnesium ion and sodium ion. On the product side, the magnesium is now paired with hydroxide ion forming an insoluble solid or precipitate called magnesium hydroxide.

Similarly sodium ion is now paired with the chloride ion forming a soluble strong electrolyte sodium chloride.

How to write metathesis mechanism

Step 1]

Break each reactant apart into the cation and anion present

Mg+    Cl2-

Na+   OH-

Step 2]

Exchange anions

Mg+ OH-

Na+   Cl-

Step 3]

Pairing of cation with anion



Step 4]

If one of the products formed is an insoluble solid, write the unbalanced molecular equation by placing the formulas for the reactants (along with physical states) on the left side of the arrow and write formulas for the products (along with physical states) on the right side of the arrow.

MgCl2 (aq) + NaOH (aq) --> Mg (OH)2 (s) +  NaCl (aq)

Step 5]

Balance the equation

MgCl2 (aq) + 2 NaOH (aq) --> Mg (OH)2 (s) + 2 NaCl (aq)

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