Lauri Vaska

Lauri Vaska

Lauri Vaska (born May 7, 1925, in Rakvere, Estonia) is an Estonian-born chemist who has made noteworthy contributions to organometallic chemistry.

Vaska was educated at the Baltic University in Hamburg, Germany (1946) and subsequently at the Universität Göttingen (1946-1949) where he received his vordiplom (equivalent to the American B.S. degree). He pursued his Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Texas (1952-1956). He was a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University (1956-1957) where he conducted research on magnetochemistry. In 1957 he took a position as Fellow at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh where he remained until 1964. During that time, the Mellon Institute housed a number of future chemical luminaries, include Paul Lauterbur and R. Bruce King. Vaska moved as an associate professor to Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York where, since 1990, he remains Professor Emeritus of Chemistry. His brother Vootele Vaska is a philosopher.


Vaska published "ca." eighty journal articles on the coordination chemistry of transition metals, homogeneous catalysis, and both organometallic and bioinorganic chemistry. His years at Mellon were especially productive.With J.W. Di Luzio in 1962 he first described the iridium compound which has now become known as Vaska's complex, "trans"-IrCl(CO)(P(C6H5)3)2 [cite journal|author=L. Vaska and J.W. DiLuzio |title=Carbonyl and Hydrido-Carbonyl Complexes of Iridium by Reaction with Alcohols. Hydrido Complexes by Reaction with Acid |journal=Journal of the American Chemical Society |date=1961 |volume =83 |pages =2784–5 |doi=10.1021/ja01473a054] Working with a series of coworkers, he demonstrated that this iridium(I) complex undergoes a variety of reactions with small molecules. For example, it oxidatively adds H2 to give a dihydride. [cite journal|author=L. Vaska and J.W. DiLuzio|title=Activation of Hydrogen by a Transition Metal Complex at Normal Conditions Leading to a Stable Molecular Dihydride|journal=Journal of the American Chemical Society| date=1962 |volume = 84|pages= 679–680| doi=10.1021/ja00863a040] He subsequently discovered that his complex reversibly bound O2, which was then a startling achievement. He discovered the main reactions of oxidative addition, a process that is central to homogeneous catalysis in organometallic chemistry. He demonstrated a number of important substituent effects on the oxidative addition, such as the greater reactivity of Ir(I) "vs." Rh(I) and the stabilization of oxidative adducts by iodide "vs." chloride.


Vaska received significant recognition for his work, although this recognition is not commensurate with his achievements and level of innovation. Among his awards are the Boris Pregel Award for Research in Chemical Physics (New York Academy of Sciences) in 1971 and election in 1981 as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for "pioneering work in transiton metal organometallic chemistry and synthetic oxygen carriers".


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