Pentaphenyl Bismuth is Like a Bird of Ultramarine Color: Vladimir Sharutin on Exciting Features of Chemistry


“Chemistry is a profession of art,” says Vladimir Sharutin, Doctor of Chemistry, professor, senior research scientist of the SUSU Department of Science and Innovation.

Vladimir Viktorovich is the founder and head of the South Ural’s scientific school of chemists and organo-element researchers; he is considered one of the most efficient and quoted SUSU scientists in the world. We talked to Vladimir Sharutin on the nature of chemistry and on new discoveries of the university.

–  Vladimir Viktorovich, you said that chemistry is bound with art. Why is that?

 – An artist draws pictures, a musician writes songs, and we – chemists – create new chemical compounds, that have never been obtained before, from already discovered ones. We are pioneers in the field of chemistry. You will never believe how interesting and exciting this is! When you carry out a reaction you think: I wonder what the result is going to be like? And you are waiting in anticipation (smiling).

– How long have you been working on this subject?

– For my entire life! To be exact, chemistry IS my entire life. My major topic in chemistry, ever since my student years, has been organic compounds of antimony and bismuth. I studied at the Gorky State University of Nizhny Novgorod. Along with my scientific supervisor Nina Alexandrovna Osanova and academician Georgiy Alexeevich Razuvaev we started carrying out cooperative research work. My first article in an international scientific journal was published in 1975. Since then, me and my wife Olga Sharutina wrote about 600 articles, 432 of which have already been published in journals of Scopus and Web of Science databases.

It happened so that after the university I found myself at the Institute of Organometallic Chemistry (of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Topic for the candidate dissertation was chosen by my scientific supervisor G.A. Razuvaev and concerned ferrocenyl and cymantrenyl compounds of metals. They have one peculiarity – they are all of different colors: green, red, yellow, compared to colorless compounds of antimony and bismuth. But among colorless compounds of nontransition metals there is one, absolutely special colorful compound – pentaphenyl bismuth. It reminds me a line form a well-known song “…a bird of ultramarine color.” I wish people had such eyes! Initially pentaphenyl bismuth was obtained by Nobel laureate Georg Wittig in 1950, and in 1975 in Russia we managed to perform a synthesis of this compound of bismuth. I got so excited with the idea to obtain pentaphenyl bismuth that I offered my scientific supervisor to repeat this uneasy experiment. It took me a long time to persuade my supervisor to perform this action – back then obtaining the pentaphenyl bismuth seemed unreal.

We obtained these purple-and-blue crystals and published our results in the journal “Doklady of the Academy of Sciences”. Our work even drawn attention of Nobel laureate Derek Barton.

And in the process of working with this derivate of bismuth we found out that pentaphenyl bismuth oxidizes alcohol to ketones. Therefore, we discovered a reaction for obtaining ketones out of alcohols. It occurred unexpectedly, no one has ever done this before us! Can you imagine our excitement?

After Novgorod, for 20 years I had been working at the Blagoveshchensk Pedagogical University, where I moved in the frameworks of a program for strengthening Far Eastern universities. But in time I realized that from the perspective of science there was “nothing to catch”. Then I was told about SUSU. As some say – feel the difference. Thanks to the SUSU President German Vyatkin and the Rector of the university Alexander Shestakov I moved to Chelyabinsk and started working at SUSU’s Chemistry Laboratory of Organoelement Compounds. For 5 years already, me and Olga Konstantinovna have been working here. During this time, we have published approximately the same number of articles as in 20 years of working in the Far East.

– What projects are you working on now?

Now we keep working with phosphorus-, antimony- and bismuth-organic compounds and started researching complexes of transition metals. In Russia, there are only 3 groups of scientists who work with organic compounds of antimony and bismuth, but more interesting are derivates of transition metals, which mainly chemists from the G.A. Razuvaev Institute of Organometallic Chemistry of Nizhny Novgorod are working with. Recently we switched to transition metals: silver, gold, platinum, iridium, rhodium, rhenium, ruthenium, palladium, and osmium. In this area we have many results, but the most important thing is that more and more scientists of the world refer to us. It makes us so happy!

– I saw a peculiar device in your laboratory. How does it help to chemists?

– This is our most important helper – the device is the automatic four-circle Bruker D8 QUEST diffractometer. It consists of several important component parts: a chiller, a mechanic device for rotating a crystal, an X-ray tube, a detector, and computer equipment. Chiller is a so-called heat-exchange unit. It contains 80 liters of water which is transferred to the X-ray tube for its cooling. But the cooling of the X-ray tube is not performed completely; therefore it is always hot in our laboratory. High voltage – 50 kV is applied to the X-ray tube. Beam of X-rays in the X-ray tube falls on a graphite mirror, gets reflected and gets in a collimator (a steel tube of 0,5 mm in diameter). A thin beam of X-rays at the output of the collimator falls on a crystal, a diffraction of X-rays on the crystal occurs and this fact processes the detector, from which information gets transmitted to the computer and then the obtained data get processed. Thanks to our iron helper we are now working over publication in the journal “Uspekhi Khimii” (Successes in Chemistry), which is the only one among journals in Russian language included in the TOP-10 of the Scopus and Web of Science databases.

– Could you share your plans for the future?

– Discover new compounds, research their structure and practically important properties! This is our main goal. I would also like to increase the number and quality of our future scientific articles.


Yulia Ionova; photo by: Oleg Igoshin
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