The University of Texas at El Paso
A synthetic inorganic chemist, Skye Fortier prides himself a “molecule maker.” He focuses on molecules with metals in them, ranging from titanium to uranium, creating elaborate molecular architectures designed to elicit a particular property of the metal. One key interest is understanding the orbital character and electronic properties of the metals within the molecules and how they relate to reactivity.
“Research in my laboratory is largely driven by fundamental scientific and chemical curiosity in the basic sciences – particularly in the area of molecular inorganic chemistry,” he said. “We focus on trying to ‘push the envelope’ by examining the chemistry of metals in unusually low oxidations states and in unusual coordination environments.”
Dr. Fortier’s team has made new discoveries using earth-abundant titanium for the mimicry of precious metals in C-H activation chemistry and hydrogenation catalysis, and has designed ligands to stabilize highly reactive iron-nitride and cobalt-nitride bonds to help better understand nitrogen fixation and transfer chemistry.
Dr. Fortier has a particular fondness for uranium.
“Uranium exists at the last frontier of the periodic table – there is so much we don’t know about it,” he said. Although uranium is radioactive, its long half-life makes it easy to work with.
He notes that while uranium chemistry has become more popular, it still suffers from the stigma of association with nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. However, a deeper understanding of the element will have important practical applications, such as developing new methods for improved waste handling. Dr. Fortier is hoping to create new molecular systems with uranium to access unique chemistry.