The CNRS Institute of Chemistry welcomes Yoshiaki Nakao as the Ambassador in Chemical Sciences

Entretiens International

L’Institut de chimie souhaite la bienvenue à Yoshiaki Nakao, ambassadeur CNRS des sciences chimiques

On August 28th 2023*, Yoshiaki Nakao will start a series of lectures in several French CNRS laboratories as the Ambassador in Chemical Sciences in France*. As a Professor at the Department of Material Chemistry of the Kyoto University(Japon), Yoshiaki Nakao‘s research is dedicated to the C-H and C-X functionalization by cooperative catalysis. He tells us all about this subject.

  • What drove you to go into the field of the C-H and C-X functionalization by cooperative catalysis ?

In organic chemistry, it is possible to understand and modulate the physico-chemical properties of compounds at the molecular level. It's a fascinating approach that enables us to create valuable substances such as innovative materials or drugs.

In this context, I was particularly fascinated by the diversity presented by the reactivity of metal complexes. Metal complexes often act as catalysts, breaking or forming new chemical bonds that would otherwise be impossible. What's more, the reactivity and selectivity of the reactions they catalyze can be finely controlled by the geometry of the organic molecules attached to them, known as ligands. This is what makes organometallic chemistry so fascinating, all the more so as the reactions catalyzed by these metal complexes lead to so many products that impact our everyday lives, such as medicines. Key reactions in this field, such as olefin polymerization catalysis, asymmetric catalysis, metathesis and cross-coupling reactions, have all been awarded Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.


  • What do you think will be the most important development in your field in 5, 10- and 25-years' time?

The development of truly new catalysts for breaking and forming chemical bonds should be considerable. In organometallic chemistry, the number of metal complexes is practically infinite if we consider all possible combinations of metal elements from the periodic table with all known organic molecules (ligands). I believe that chemists have still only explored a tiny fraction of these combinations, and the enormous catalytic potential of metal/ligand assemblies remains immense.  The development of truly innovative metal catalysts, featuring a completely redesigned reactivity, should rapidly benefit from recent advances in theoretical calculations and artificial intelligence.

At the same time, the development of catalysts capable of creating or transforming molecules directly in the environment in which they need to be to perform their function should make significant progress. For example, C-H bond functionalization is a basic synthetic transformation in organic chemistry, but one that remains complex to achieve selectively, as it is not easy to distinguish the different C-H bonds that make up organic molecules. To achieve this, it is currently necessary to incorporate appropriate "markers" into the starting materials to specifically target the C-H bond on which the metal catalyst is to act. New metal catalysts that do not require such modifications to act should be available in the near future.


  • As a CNRS ambassador of the Chemical Sciences, what are you most looking forward to in your conference tour?

I'm looking forward to establishing links with French scientists specializing in organic synthesis and organometallic chemistry, with a view to future collaborations. My visits to France have been limited to attending international conferences, and I haven't had the opportunity to visit universities or research institutes for more in-depth discussions with colleagues. Organometallic chemistry has long been developed in France, leading to a number of major results. The field remains particularly dynamic, with the aim of developing new metal catalysts for organic synthesis that are ever more efficient and selective.  It's very exciting to have the chance to "talk chemistry" with the scientists conducting this research. Thanks to this visit, I'll be able to strengthen or build new collaborations that will enable us to pool our respective strengths and thus propose unique and innovative research projects!


(*) In 2019, CNRS Institute of Chemistry has initiated a program called “Ambassadors of Chemical Sciences in France”. Its ambition is to give prestigious foreign researchers an opportunity to visit a series of French laboratories active in their field. These visits not only include top-notch conferences by the ambassador, but are also a good opportunity to establish preliminary contacts and foster international collaborations for the visited French laboratories.

Conference tour schedule

Date                            City                  Contact person & Hosting institution

28/08/2023              Toulouse                 Didier Bourissou

                                                             Laboratoire hétérochimie fondamentale et appliquée

30/08/2023              Paris-Saclay            Grégory Nocton

                                                             Laboratoire de chimie moléculaire

                                                             Thierry Gacoin

                                                             Laboratoire de physique de la matière condensée

31/08/2023              Paris                       Guillaume Lefèvre

                                                             Institute of Chemistry for Life and Health Sciences

1/09/2023                Rennes                   Rafael Gramage-Doria

                                                             Institut des sciences chimiques de Rennes

4/09/2023                Lyon                       Abderrahmane Amgoune

                                                             Institut de chimie et de biochimie moléculaires et supramoléculaires


Stéphanie Younès
Responsable Communication - Institut de chimie du CNRS
Anne-Valérie Ruzette
Chargée scientifique pour la communication - Institut de chimie du CNRS
Christophe Cartier dit Moulin
Chercheur à l'Institut parisien de chimie moléculaire & Chargé de mission pour la communication scientifique de l'INC