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Homogeneous Catalysis

Our group focuses on the development of new catalysis concepts within the areas of organocatalysis, transition metal catalysis, and, to some extent, biocatalysis. Since 1999, the List-group concentrates on enantioselective organocatalysis as a fundamental approach complementing biocatalysis and transition metal catalysis. We have a profound interest in developing “new reactions”, designing and identifying new principles for the development of organocatalysts, expanding the scope of already developed catalysts such as proline, using organocatalysis in the synthesis of natural products and pharmaceuticals, and also investigating the mechanism by which organocatalysts activate their substrates. Furthermore, in 2005 our group has first conceptualized another approach to asymmetric catalysis, namely asymmetric counteranion directed catalysis (ACDC). This idea has not only progressed within the department but also at other institutions around the globe into a general strategy for asymmetric synthesis applied in organocatalysis as well as in transition metal catalysis and Lewis acid catalysis.

Benjamin List

Prof. Dr. Benjamin List

Managing Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung
since 2005
Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung
since 2005
Scientific member of the Max-Planck-Society
since 2004
Honorary Professor at the University of Cologne
Group Leader at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung
Assistant Professor (Tenure Track), Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA
Post-Doc, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA
PhD, University Frankfurt (J. Mulzer)
Chemistry Diplom, Free University Berlin
Born in Frankfurt/Germany
Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher
Cope Scholar Award, USA
Ruhrpreis, Mülheim, Germany
Mukaiyama Award 2013
Novartis Chemistry Lectureship Award
Boehringer-Ingelheim Lectureship, Harvard University, USA
ERC Advanced Grant
Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate
Organic Reactions Lectureship, USA
Boehringer-Ingelheim Lectureship, Canada
Visiting Professor at Sungkyunkwan University, Korea
AstraZeneca Award in Organic Chemistry
2007 OBC-Lecture Award
Award of the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie
100 Masterminds of Tomorrow, Germany
JSPS Fellowship Award, Japan
Wiechert Lectureship, FU-Berlin, Germany
Novartis Young Investigator Award
AstraZeneca European Lecturer 2005
Visiting Professor at Gakushuin University, Tokyo/Japan
The Society of Synthetic Chemistry, Japan: 2005 Lectureship Award
Lieseberg-Price of the University of Heidelberg
"Lecturer's Award" of the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie
Degussa Prize for Chirality in Chemistry
Carl-Duisberg-Memorial Award of the German Chemical Society
Synthesis-Synlett Journal Award
Feodor-Lynen Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
NaFöG-Award from the City of Berlin

University of Cologne
Lectures "Organocatalysis"

since 2011
Regional Editor "Synlett", Thieme
since 2010
Member of the Editorial Advisory Panel "Nature Communications"
since 2008
Member of the Editorial Advisory Board "Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry"
since 2005
Editor "Synfacts", Thieme
Programme Coordinator of the DFG Priority Programme SPP1179
Editor: "Asymmetric Organocatalysis", Topics in Current Chemistry
Editor: "Organocatalysis", Chemical Reviews
Co-Editor, Special Edition: "Organocatalysis", Adv. Synth. Cat

Ben List receives "Novartis Chemistry Lectureship Award 2012/2013"

The Novartis Chemistry Lectureship is awarded to scientists in recognition of outstanding contributions to organic and computational chemistry, including applications to biology. It is intended to enhancing the exposure of Novartis' chemical community to cutting edge chemistry. The lectures are attended by medicinal and process chemists from Novartis, and are also open to scientists from other companies and universities. During the next two years, the lectureship will bring Prof. List to all main research sites of Novartis including Basel/CH, Cambridge/US, Emeryville/US, La Jolla/US, Horsham/UK, Shanghai/PRC, and Singapore.

University of Cologne
Lectures "Organocatalysis"

Research Topics



Our research aims towards the invention of new strategies for the development of "perfect chemical reactions" that combine quantitative yields and high atom economy, while not requiring toxic solvents, protecting groups, heating, cooling, or inert gas atmosphere. We approach this ultimate goal by using selective catalysis based on small organic molecules. In recent years it has been demonstrated that these organocatalysts can be as efficient and selective as the more commonly used metal-based catalysts, resulting in an “explosive” research activity in this new and exciting area of Organocatalysis.



We explore small-molecule amines as asymmetric catalysts for carbonyl transformations. “Asymmetric Aminocatalysis” functions by activating carbonyl compounds as iminium ions and enamines using a catalytic amount of an amine. Our strategy complements existing catalytic methods based on chiral acids and bases that typically involve metals. After our studies on the first asymmetric proline-catalyzed intermolecular aldol reaction in 2000, we realized that enamine catalysis has the potential to be a general strategy for the catalytic utilization of carbanion equivalents. Since then we have discovered several other transformations that can be catalyzed by primary or secondary amines. Currently our research aims towards the synthesis and identification of new catalyst structures to tackle further exciting and challenging problems and to discover new amine-catalyzed transformations.

Brønsted Acid Catalysis
Brønsted Acid Catalysis

Brønsted Acid Catalysis

The number of reactions that can be catalyzed by Brønsted acids may well exceed that of those that cannot. In light of this, Brønsted acid catalysis has become a focus of our research. We are constantly looking for useful transformations that can be catalyzed with Brønsted acids. For example, we have developed a Brønsted acid catalyzed Hosomi-Sakurai reaction (2006) and the catalytic 3-component Ugi reaction (2008). Besides this, the asymmetric catalysis of such reactions is a major goal of our work. Thereby the design of new active and selective catalyst motifs comes along with mechanistic studies leading to an understanding of the reaction, ultimately allowing for the rational design of improved catalysts.

Organic Lewis Acid Catalysis
Organic Lewis Acid Catalysis

Organic Lewis Acid Catalysis

The field of Lewis acid catalysis is so far strongly dominated by (transition) metal chemistry. To provide the purely organic counterparts to these traditional catalytic systems we are dedicated to the synthesis and identification of organic Lewis acids. In 2009 we found that our newly synthesized chiral disulfonimides are not only excellent Brønsted acids, but turn into strong Lewis acids upon silylation. These chiral Lewis acids can easily activate simple aldehydes at catalyst loadings as low as 0.001 mol% and catalyze enantioselective Mukaiyama aldol reactions with high enantioselectivities. Very recently we were able to extend this concept to the asymmetric vinylogous Mukaiyama aldol reaction as well as to almost unprecedented enantioselective bisvinylogous Mukaiyama aldol reactions. Considering the many Lewis acid catalyzed reactions, these examples are clearly just the beginning of this exciting area of organic Lewis acid catalysis. Studies towards a deep understanding of the mode of action as well as the elaboration of new organic Lewis acid catalyzed transformations are the subject of intense research in our group.

Asymmetric Couteranion Directed Catalysis (ACDC)
Asymmetric Couteranion Directed Catalysis (ACDC)

Asymmetric Couteranion Directed Catalysis (ACDC)

Most reactions proceed via charged intermediates and/or transition states. This allows to manipulate the course of a reaction and consequently also its stereochemical outcome by careful choice of a chiral counterion. In asymmetric phase transfer catalysis this concept is well established by using e.g. chiral quaternary ammonium cations. However, the anionic counterpart to this methodology, the use of chiral anions to influence the stereochemical outcome of reactions proceeding via cationic intermediates has been elusive for a long time. In 2006 we disclosed that the combination of a chiral phosphate anion and an achiral amine is a powerful catalytic system for the highly enantioselective transfer hydrogenation of enals in which the asymmetric induction is solely provided by the chiral counteranion. During the last years we have extended this concept to other organocatalytic as well as metal catalyzed transformations, focusing on innovative reactions and potentially new chiral counteranions.

Synthesis of Natural Products and Biologically Active Compounds
Synthesis of Natural Products and Biologically Active Compounds

Synthesis of Natural Products and Biologically Active Compounds

The ultimate goal of method development in organic synthesis is to provide useful and reliable tools for the synthesis of complex molecules such as natural products or biologically relevant compounds and to lead to a better understanding of the underlying principles. The value of a new method is often judged by the number of possible applications and the gain of knowledge it comes along with. In our group we are tackling chemical problems of asymmetric bond construction that are basically unsolved yet. Consequently a successfully developed new method should provide access to useful building blocks that can be used to easily ensemble complex molecules. Therefore the synthesis of natural products and pharmaceuticals is an important element of our research, not only to evaluate the potential of a new method, but also as a stimulus and source of inspiration towards new exciting discoveries.



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