Iron-catalyzed intermolecular [2+2] cycloadditions of unactivated alkenes

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Science  28 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6251, pp. 960-963
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7440

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Iron plays matchmaker to pair up olefins

In theory, shining the right wavelength of light onto carbon-carbon double bonds should pair them up into four-membered cyclobutane rings. In practice, however, this route can prove finicky and inefficient, particularly if the necessary wavelength lies deep in the ultraviolet region. Hoyt et al. report an iron catalyst that coaxes a wide variety of simple olefins into such rings without the need for photoexcitation (see the Perspective by Smith and Baran). Systematic optimization of the ligand coordinated to iron effectively eliminated competing pathways to alternative products.

Science, this issue p. 960; see also p. 925


Cycloadditions, such as the [4+2] Diels-Alder reaction to form six-membered rings, are among the most powerful and widely used methods in synthetic chemistry. The analogous [2+2] alkene cycloaddition to synthesize cyclobutanes is kinetically accessible by photochemical methods, but the substrate scope and functional group tolerance are limited. Here, we report iron-catalyzed intermolecular [2+2] cycloaddition of unactivated alkenes and cross cycloaddition of alkenes and dienes as regio- and stereoselective routes to cyclobutanes. Through rational ligand design, development of this base metal–catalyzed method expands the chemical space accessible from abundant hydrocarbon feedstocks.

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