Günther Wilke passed away last Friday. He will be remembered for his work in the filed of organometallic chemistry and catalysis and as director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Coal Research (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung), Mühlheim/Ruhr, Germany.
Günther Wilke studied chemistry at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and received his Ph.D. there under the supervision of Karl Freudenberg. In 1951, he started working at the MPI for Coal Research in the group of Karl Ziegler. He finished his habilitation at RWTH Aachen University, Germany, in 1960. From 1969 to 1993, he was director of the MPI for Coal Research, succeeding Karl Ziegler in that post. During this time, the MPI made several discoveries and achieved some financial independence stemming from patents and a gift from the Ziegler family. From 1980–1981, Wilke served as President of the German Chemical Society (GDCh, Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker).
Among many other honors, Wilke received the Karl Ziegler Award from the GDCh in 1978, the Wilhelm Exner Medal in 1980, the Willard Gibbs Award in 1991, and several honorary doctorates. He was a Member of the Academia Europaea, a Centennial Foreign Fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and an Honorary Member of the GDCh.
Wilke’s research focused on homogeneous catalysis using nickel complexes. Compounds he discovered or developed include Ni(1,5-cyclooctadiene)2, Ni(allyl)2, and Ni(C2H4)3. Some of these complexes are useful catalysts for the oligomerization of dienes. Products of such reactions are used, e.g., in the production of nylon. His institute also developed a method for the production of ferrocen, which can be used as a fuel additive, as well as supercritical extraction, which is used to remove caffeine from coffee.
- Fifty Years of Ziegler Catalysts: Consequences and Development of an Invention,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2003, 42, 5000–5008.
- Contributions to Organo-Nickel Chemistry,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1988, 27, 185–206.
- Organo transition metal compounds as intermediates in homogeneous catalytic reactions,
Pure Appl. Chem. 1978.
- The “Nickel Effect”,
K. Fischer, K. Jonas, P. Misbach, R. Stabba, G. Wilke,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1973, 12, 943–953.
- Oxygen Complexes of Zerovalent Nickel, Palladium, and Platinum,
G. Wilke, H. Schott, P. Heimbach,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1967, 6, 92–93.
- Allyl-Transition Metal Systems,
G. Wilke, B. Bogdanović, P. Hardt, P. Heimbach, W. Keim, M. Kröner, W. Oberkirch, K. Tanaka, E. Steinrücke, D. Walter, H. Zimmermann,
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 1966, 5, 151–164.
- Cyclooligomerisation von Butadien und Übergangsmetall-π-Komplexe (in German),
G. Wilke, Nach B. Arbeiten Bogdanovič, P. Borner, H. Breil, P. Hardt, P. Heimbach, G. Herrmann, H.-J. Kaminsky, W. Keim, M. Kröner, Herbert Müller, Ernst Willi Müller, W. Oberkirch, J. Schneider, J. Stedefeder, K. Tanaka, K. Weyer, G. Wilke,
Angew. Chem. 1963, 75, 10–20.
- Bis-π-allyl-nickel (in German),
G. Wilke, B. Bogdanovič,
Angew. Chem. 1961, 73, 756–756.