David Milstein

David Milstein (born June 4, 1947) is an Israeli chemist studying homogeneous catalysis.

David Milstein
Born (1947-06-04) 4 June 1947
NationalityIsrael, United States
Alma materThe Hebrew University
Known forMetal-mediated activation of chemical bonds.
Scientific career
FieldsOrganometallic chemistry

Education and early life

Milstein was born in 1947 in Ulm, Germany where his family took refuge after being displaced during the Holocaust. With his family, he immigrated to the newly founded state of Israel at the age of two. Milstein was first fascinated by chemistry when attending high school in the town of Rehovot where “an enthusiastic, old-fashioned chemistry teacher who didn’t care much about orbitals” inspired him “with vivid, thought-provoking experiments”.[1] Pursuing his interest, Milstein received B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Career and research

Milstein carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Iowa and at Colorado State University with John Kenneth Stille, where he performed key research leading up to the Stille reaction.[2] This reaction remains highly topical. In 1979 at the conclusion of his postdoc, Milstein joined DuPont Central Research & Development in Wilmington, Delaware, where he became a group leader in the area of homogeneous catalysis. In 1987, he took position at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he is now the Israel Matz Professorial Chair of Organic Chemistry.

Independent research

Milstein's research has mainly focused on complexes of groups 8, 9, and 10 transition-metal complexes. A hallmark of his research is the use of pincer ligands, particularly those with substituents that absorb or release hydrogen.

In early independent research, he examined the activation of C-C, C-H, C-F, N-H, and O-H bonds.. In one case, he described insertion of rhodium into a C-C bond using a pincer-type substrate.[3] This paper established a general strategy for C-C activation in homogeneous systems.[4] Related research focused on other strong bonds to carbon, e.g. the C-F bond.[5] In other research at the early stages in his independent career, he examined the then rare oxidative addition of N-H and O-H.[6]

Milstein achieved acclaim for the discovery of pincer complexes that catalyze dehydrogenation reactions concomitant with condensations. In one breakthrough, amides are generated by dehydrocoupling of a mixture of alcohols and amines:[7]

RCH2OH + R'NH2 → RC(O)NHR' + 2 H2

This discovery was selected by Science magazine as one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2007. The reaction has been praised for its selectivity and mildness. H2 gas is the only by-product.[8] Related processes allow the synthesis of esters from alcohols:[9]

2 RCH2OH → RC(O)OR + 2 H2

In a quite different direction, Milstein and his co-workers described a solution-phase reaction scheme for water splitting. In this system, he devised ruthenium catalysts to promote the evolution of hydrogen and oxygen in consecutive thermal- and light-driven steps. The process embodied a new light-driven water splitting strategy that does not require a sacrificial chemical in the process.[10][11][12]

Honors and awards

Personal life

Son of Musia and Abraham and younger brother of Lea, Milstein married to Adi Milstein in 1971, with whom he has three children: Nofit (b. 1972), Oren (b. 1976, cofounder of StemRad), and Abraham (b. 1983). He resides in the town of Rehovot in Israel.


  1. The Skeptical Chymist (http://blogs.nature.com/thescepticalchymist/2008/09/reactions_david_milstein.html)
  2. Milstein, D.; Stille, J. K. (1978). "A general, selective, and facile method for ketone synthesis from acid chlorides and organotin compounds catalyzed by palladium". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 100 (11): 3636–3638. doi:10.1021/ja00479a077.
  3. Gozin, M.; Weisman, A.; Ben-David, Y.; Milstein, D. (1993). "Activation of a carbon–carbon bond in solution by transition-metal insertion". Nature. 364 (6439): 699–701. Bibcode:1993Natur.364..699G. doi:10.1038/364699a0.
  4. Gozin, M.; Aizenberg, M.; Liou, S.-Y.; Weisman, A.; Ben-David, Y.; Milstein, D. (1994). "Transfer of methylene groups promoted by metal complexation". Nature. 370 (6484): 42–44. Bibcode:1994Natur.370...42G. doi:10.1038/370042a0.The Fall of the C-C Bond http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v364/n6439/abs/364676a0.html
  5. Aizenberg, M.; Milstein, D. (1994). "Catalytic activation of carbon-fluorine bonds by a soluble transition metal complex". Science. 265 (5170): 359–361. Bibcode:1994Sci...265..359A. doi:10.1126/science.265.5170.359. PMID 17838035.
  6. Zhang et al. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja059914h
  7. Gunanathan, C.; Ben-David, Y.; Milstein, D. (2007). "Direct synthesis of amides from alcohols and amines with liberation of H2". Science. 317 (5839): 790–792. Bibcode:2007Sci...317..790G. doi:10.1126/science.1145295. PMID 17690291.
  8. Breakthrough of the Year http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/318/5858/1844a
  9. Zhang, J.; Leitus, G.; Ben-David, Y.; Milstein, D. (2005). "Facile conversion of alcohols into esters and dihydrogen catalyzed by new ruthenium complexes". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 127 (31): 10840–10841. doi:10.1021/ja052862b. PMID 16076184.
  10. Kohl, S. W.; Weiner, L.; Schwartsburd, L.; Konstantinovski, L.; Shimon, L. J. W.; Ben-David, Y.; Iron, M. A.; Milstein, D. (2009). "Consecutive thermal H2 and light-induced O2 evolution from water promoted by a metal complex". Science. 324 (5923): 74–77. Bibcode:2009Sci...324...74K. doi:10.1126/science.1168600. PMID 19342584.
  11. Poverenov, E.; Efremenko, I.; Frenkel, A. I.; Ben-David, Y.; Shimon, L. J. W.; Leitus, G.; Konstantinovski, L.; Martin, J. M. L.; Milstein, D. (2008). "Evidence for a terminal Pt(IV)-oxo complex exhibiting diverse reactivity". Nature. 455 (7216): 1093–1096. Bibcode:2008Natur.455.1093P. doi:10.1038/nature07356.
  12. New way to split water https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090406102555.htm
  13. 2016 recipient of the ENI Award for Protection of the Environment https://www.eni.com/en_IT/innovation/eni-award/2016-milstein-environment-protection.page
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