Professor Doug Stephan FRSC
Winner: 2021 Centenary Prize
University of Toronto
For the discovery of “Frustrated Lewis Pairs” and their wide applicability in bond-forming and catalysis, and for excellence in communication.
Celebrate Professor Doug Stephan
The pandemic has taught us that when people socially distance, they can still interact with each other, but in ways that are not the same as when they can get together. This same principle is true for molecules.
Fifteen years ago, Professor Stephan's research revealed that, by limiting the approach of molecules that normally interact strongly, it is possible to access previously unknown regimes of chemical reactivity. Such combinations of molecules were given the moniker 'frustrated Lewis pairs (FLPs)'. This concept dislodged the long-held chemical dogma that industrial processes hinge on the chemistry of metals and unveiled metal-free catalyst technologies. This opens the door to the 'greening' of chemical and material production processes and has influenced research groups around the world. Professor Stephan's research continues to explore the range of systems that behave as FLPs, targeting new ways to reduce energy consumption, remediate greenhouse gases and convert CO2 to desirable chemicals.Read winner biography
Professor Doug Stephan, born in Hamilton, graduated with his BSc at McMaster (1976) and completed his PhD at UWO (1980). He then held a NATO PDF at Harvard, before beginning his independent career at the University of Windsor (1982). He was promoted to Associate Professor (1985), full Professor(1992) and named a NSERC Industrial Research Chair (2001), University Professor (2002) and Canada Research Chair (2005). In 2008 he moved to the University of Toronto as a Professor and Canada Research Chair. In 2018, he was appointed University Professor. He was an Associate Editor of Chemical Society Reviews for six years, the Chair of the journal's editorial board, and is now Chair of the Chemical Communications Editorial Board.
A world-leading researcher in inorganic chemistry/catalysis, he is best known as the founder of the field of 'frustrated Lewis pair' (FLP) chemistry. He has received a number of national and international awards, including Humboldt and Killam Fellowships. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Corresponding Member of North-Rhein-Westfaelia Academy of the Sciences and Arts (Germany) and was a Distinguished Adjunct Professor at King Abdulaziz University. He is an Einstein Visiting Fellow at TU Berlin, recipient of the 2019 J C Polanyi Award from NSERC of Canada, a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 2021 Killam Prize.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
My father was a pharmacist, and from an early age I worked in his drug store. So when I first made aspirin in an undergraduate lab at McMaster University I was hooked on chemistry.
Who or what has inspired you?
I am inspired by the excitement of discovery. I remember doing a 4th year undergraduate project with Mike McGlinchey at McMaster and when we were discussing the product of a reaction, he told me I was the first person ever to make this compound. This was incredibly exciting and motivating for me and this sense of discovery has continued to motivate me through the years.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
The one question you should always ask when you uncover some new chemistry is: ok, now that we know this, what does that mean in terms of the bigger picture? How can we exploit this teaching to do something even more exciting?
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
Life as an academic has been a continuous highlight. We get to work with really bright, motivated young people, and collaborate with friends from around the world, probing new questions every day. Hard to beat that!