The Oxidation Agent
Organosilicon chemist creates molecules to help shrink electronics
Matthew R. MacDonald came into graduate school feeling like he had something to prove. With no undergraduate research experience, he knew he would have to work overtime just to keep up with his peers in the lab of prominent organometallic chemist William J. Evans at the University of California, Irvine.
What MacDonald didn’t know was that, in the process of proving himself, he would also prove a few things about fundamental chemistry. By the time he graduated in 2013, MacDonald had discovered new oxidation states for eight elements, shaking up long-held chemical beliefs.
Chemists did not think that these states could exist in molecules, Evans says. MacDonald’s doctoral work is a reminder that “we’re not as mature as we thought we were in chemistry,” Evans adds.
This reminder came, in part, thanks to MacDonald’s deep scientific curiosity. The soft-spoken, Southern Californian surfer says he rarely takes anything as a given. That’s why he bothered looking into the oxidation states that were assumed to be understood.
MacDonald now works for Air Products & Chemicals, where he’s developing volatile precursors that will allow microelectronics companies to create smaller silicon components for their ever-shrinking products.
Some experts predict it’s just a matter of time before companies are unable to cram any more processing power into smaller devices like smartphones. MacDonald and Air Products are working to help the microelectronics industry reach that limit, but perhaps it wouldn’t be surprising if MacDonald challenges a few more scientific assumptions along the way. -Matt Davenport
Research At A Glance
Challenging conventional wisdom about the periodic table, MacDonald discovered new oxidation states for eight of its members (highlighted), many of which are rare-earth elements. A complex that he created with uranium in the +2 oxidation state is shown.
Credit: J. Am. Chem. Soc.