HMC Expert: Katherine Van Heuvelen

Chemistry, Environment, Metals in Biology

Have you ever read the label on a bottle of vitamins and wondered why people need cobalt, zinc, iron and manganese?

In nature these metals perform a remarkable array of chemical transformations that include water oxidation in photosynthesis, oxygen transportation by iron in red blood cells, and nitrogen fixation by bacterial nitrogenase enzymes.

These reactions occur under benign conditions using earth-abundant metals, in contrast to current industrial processes that often require rare, expensive metals as catalysts and extreme conditions, such as high pressure or high temperatures.

Katherine Van Heuvelen’s laboratory develops biologically-inspired, earth-abundant transition metal compounds that mimic the unusual reactivity observed in metalloenzymes.

Current research efforts in the Van Heuvelen lab focus on environmental remediation reactions catalyzed by the cobalt-containing Vitamin B12 and the nickel-containing enzyme methyl-coenzyme M reductase (MCR).  Both systems catalyze the dehalogenation of chlorinated alkenes, which can act as damaging pollutants in the environment.

Her lab is preparing biomimetic cobalt and nickel complexes that reproduce key geometric and electronic features of Vitamin B12 and MCR, respectively.

These molecular models are then characterized using a variety of experimental and computational techniques to investigate the relationship between electronic structure and reactivity.

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