Sphalerite is a geochemical catalyst for carbon-hydrogen bond activation

Jessie A. Shipp, Ian Gould, Everett Shock, Lynda Williams, Hilairy Hartnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Reactions among minerals and organic compounds in hydrothermal systems are critical components of the Earth's deep carbon cycle, provide energy for the deep biosphere, and may have implications for the origins of life. However, there is limited information as to how specific minerals influence the reactivity of organic compounds. Here we demonstrate mineral catalysis of the most fundamental component of an organic reaction: the breaking and making of a covalent bond. In the absence of mineral, hydrothermal reaction of cis- and trans-1,2-dimethylcyclohexane is extremely slow and generates many products. In the presence of sphalerite (ZnS), however, the reaction rate increases dramatically and one major product is formed: the corresponding stereoisomer. Isotope studies show that the sphalerite acts as a highly specific heterogeneous catalyst for activation of a single carbon-hydrogen bond in the dimethylcyclohexanes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11642-11645
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 12 2014


  • Hydrothermal organic geochemistry
  • Organic catalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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