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Dieter Sellmann (1941Ц2003) Coordination Chemistry of N2 Fixation.

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Dieter Sellmann (1941 – 2003):
Coordination Chemistry
of N2 Fixation
Dieter Sellmann died unexpectedly on 6
May 2003, at the age of 62. He was an
outstanding coordination chemist. His
innovative contributions to the modeling of enzymatic nitrogen fixation, that
is, the conversion of inert dinitrogen into
ammonia under homogeneous catalysis
and mild reaction conditions, have made
him well known internationally, and
have been an inspiration to many of
his fellow scientists time and time again.
Dieter was an exceptionally gifted synthetic chemist. Over a period of more
than 30 years he synthesized interesting,
unusual, and esthetically beautiful molecules, with an impressively large number of students.
Dieter Sellmann entered the public
scientific scene in 1972 at the Chemiedozententagung (German meeting of
junior chemistry lecturers) in Heidelberg with a bang. Unforgettable for all
of those present was the masterful,
confident way in which he presented
his first ground-breaking results in
artificial N2 fixation: the dinuclear diimine complex trans-[(m-N2H2){CpMn(CO)2}2][1] and its oxidized dinitrogen
product [CpMn(CO)2N2].[2] In 1989 followed the biomimetic complex [(mN2H2){Fe(“NHS4”)}2], which has many
structural and electronic properties that
are important in nitrogenase.[3] The synthesis of this complex led him to formulate his much debated mechanism for
catalytic N2 fixation in nature.[4]
The scientist Dieter Sellmann was
remorseless—toward others, but always toward himself
as well, when it came to the question of
“true” N2 fixation (under mild conditions). He did not accept elemental Li or
Na to be mild reagents (not even in a
disguised form). The reaction should
occur under the same conditions as the
natural process: in water, at 20 8C, under
a pressure of 1 atm, and with a physiological redox potential.
To realize his scientific dream, Dieter had to learn and develop a great deal
of organic sulfur chemistry. After taking
up an appointment at the University of
Paderborn in 1976, he went on to design
and synthesize novel sulfur-containing
ligands, which are still used today by
chemists around the world. Many of his
compounds or ideas have been used
willingly by others (also by this author)
in their chemistry. Dieter was very
From 1980, then at the University of
Erlangen, a large variety of thiolate and
thioether ligands were synthesized, and
their coordination chemistry and efficiency in N2 fixation was studied—with
success: In 2001, N2 fixation under mild
conditions at a Ru center was observed.[5] Dieter was particularly motivated and excited over the last two
years; he believed he was near his lifeDs
goal and that what he had dreamed of
was really possible.
He was an excellent teacher, who
shared his enthusiasm for chemistry
with his students in clear, concise, often
elegant language. He was convinced that
only difficult problems were worth
working on and ambitious goals worth
setting. He traveled a lot and lectured
both in Germany and abroad, but relatively reluctantly. During a big conference he once observed, while he stood
with a glass of cognac in his hand, as the
sun set over the Pacific: “I would much
2003 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
rather be sitting next to my wife on the
sofa in Erlangen right now.” And he
really meant just that.
Dieter was a stimulating speaker in
discussions, both when he was asking
and when he was replying to questions.
He asked and answered questions in his
inimitable manner: sometimes downright arrogant, but always precise. In
this way he could explain the ins and
outs of catalysis to a very renowned
colleague in just a few minutes.
Dieter was dedicated to the University of Erlangen and to his field, inorganic chemistry, to an exceptional degree. His rectors loved him, but sometimes also feared him, if he spoke out on
matters of principle: for example, to
assert that a chemistry laboratory course
must have enough money and qualified
staff, regardless of the current general
financial situation. He fought with wit,
carefully chosen words, and his sharp
analytical mind against intellectual
“nonsense” in committees and in science. One could have glorious arguments with him!
Inorganic chemistry has lost a great
scientist and an outstanding personality.
We will miss his scientific ideas and his
Karl Wieghardt
MPI fr Bioanorganische Chemie,
Mlheim an der Ruhr (Germany)
[1] a) D. Sellmann, J. Organomet. Chem. 1972,
44, C46; b) D. Sellmann, Chem. unserer Zeit
1973, 7, 163.
[2] D. Sellmann, Angew. Chem. 1971, 83, 1017;
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1971, 10, 919.
[3] D. Sellmann, W. Soglowek, F. Knoch, M.
Moll, Angew. Chem. 1989, 101, 1244; Angew.
Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1989, 28, 1271.
[4] a) D. Sellmann, J. Sutter, Acc. Chem. Res.
1997, 30, 460, b) D. Sellmann, J. Utz, N.
Blum, F. W. Heinemann, Coord. Chem. Rev.
1999, 190 – 192, 607.
[5] D. Sellmann, B. Hantsch, A. RJsler, F. W.
Heinemann, Angew. Chem. 2001, 113, 1553;
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 2001, 40, 1505.
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2003, 42, 2816
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chemistry, fixation, sellmann, coordination, 1941ц2003, dieter
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