Cook Lab

Heterogeneous and Homogeneous Catalysts to Transform Organic Molecules

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

University of Oregon


For news about the Cook lab and its members, follow us on Twitter!

  • Twitter Social Icon


We are a group of chemists who study catalysis

We explore the reactivity of organic molecules with transition metal centers both in solution and on surfaces

We care about sustainability and green chemistry

We discover and improve reactions that are relevant to the chemical industry

We employ principles of physical organic and inorganic chemistry to understand fundamental reactivity


Catalysts used in industry are primarily heterogeneous and in the solid state. This preference arises because of some intrinsic properties of heterogeneous reactions: they are easily separable from the liquid phase, easy to recycle, and stable to high temperatures and pressures.

Cactus colors - 1.png
Cactus colors - 2.png

However, heterogeneous catalysts can have some disadvantages. Namely, they are not typically synthesized with molecular control of the structure of the active site. This imprecision often results in many types of active sites within one catalytic material, which in turn leads to unselective reactions (multiple products forming) and limits our understanding of the relationship between structure and activity.

In the Cook lab, we strive to create solid catalysts with molecular control. We accomplish this by using the knowledge of inorganic, organometallic, and organic chemistry and applying it to surface chemistry. In doing so, we can make new catalysts for old and new transformations.

Because the catalysts we make are structurally well-characterized, we can probe the mechanism of the transformation, as is often done with molecular/homogeneous catalysis. The tools of physical organic chemistry are used to elucidate the catalytic cycle, develop structure-activity relationships, and make improvements in catalysis.

Cactus colors - 3.png

New ways to support active sites

Heterogeneous catalysts are mainly composed of a support, like silica or alumina, and an active site, such as a transition metal. The active site is linked to the support typically through covalent or ionic bonding.

Cactus colors - 5.png
Cactus colors - 4.png

One aim of research in the Cook lab is to make new solid catalysts by rethinking how the active site (a transition metal, in our case) is bound to the support (metal oxides like silica and alumina, in our case). This will be particularly valuable for those transition metals that don’t have strong interactions with unmodified supports. Creating new linkages between the active site and the support will increase the durability of the solid catalysts and allow for otherwise unattainable active sites to be synthesized.

With these new materials, we can explore their use as catalysts for the transformation of organic molecules. We will target reactions of potential industrial utility, because of industry’s great interest in solid catalysts.

Catalysts for reduction reactions

On prebiotic Earth, at the bottom of the ocean, it is hypothesized that the first organic molecules were synthesized by carbon dioxide reduction at hydrothermal vents. The chimney structures of hydrothermal vents are composed of minerals with transition metals such as Fe, Ni, and Co, along with sulfur, silica, and silicates. It is thought that these transition metal-sulfide and -silicate minerals acted as the catalysts for carbon dioxide reduction to Earth’s first organic molecules.

Cactus colors - 6.png
Cactus colors - 7.png

Research in the Cook lab uses this hypothesis, from a chemical perspective, as inspiration for the development of new catalysts for the reduction of polar, unsaturated bonds. We utilize those elements and functional groups present in the hydrothermal vents within our new materials, and we evaluate their catalytic activity.

The themes of mechanism elucidation, understanding structure-activity relationships, and organic chemistry reaction development are carried throughout this project.


The Team

Fall 2020

From left to right: Jack Greene (G1), Michael Hurst (G4), Hayden Henness (UG3), Amanda Cook (PI), Parker Morris (UG4), Alison Chang (G3), Kiana Kawamura (G4), Andy Davis (G1), Daryl Martin (UG4), Mark Butters-Blakeley (G1)

Not pictured: Max Bogdanov (UG3), Lucas Thigpen (UG3)


Contact Information and Links

Our labs and offices are located in the Lewis Integrative Sciences Building at the University of Oregon

Want to learn more about the University of Oregon?

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry's homepage

Interested in becoming a graduate student in the University of Oregon's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry?

The Cook lab is a part of the University of Oregon's Materials Science Institute