John E. Ellis

portrait of Professor Emeritus John Ellis

John E. Ellis

Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemistry


Smith Hall
Room 7
207 Pleasant Street Se
Minneapolis, MN 55455

B.S. University of Southern California, 1966

Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1971

Research Interests

Research interests of the Ellis group have focused on investigation of the relatively unexplored chemistry of the elements with the objective of creating new and/or useful molecules of fundamental interest. We view the entire periodic table as our playground and delight in the discovery of previously unknown classes of compounds containing elements in rare or unprecedented oxidation states and/or ligand environments; i.e., "textbook molecules." One special emphasis in current research involves studies on the reactions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon or polyarene radical anions with transition metal precursors as a unique route to new types of pure or homoleptic polyarenemetal species, especially anionic ones. Prior to our entry into this area, virtually nothing was known about polyarenemetalate anions. Even their existence was in doubt before our 1994 Angewandte Chemie report on tris(η4-naphthalene)zirconate(2-), the first example of a tris(arene) complex of a d-block element. Polyarenemetalates have proven to be exciting reagents for the exploration of the chemistry of low-valent metals, owing to the substantial lability of the coordinated polyarenes in these compounds in numerous reactions. For example, tris(naphthalene)titanate(2-) was reported in Science in 2002 to react with white phosphorus, P4, to afford the only known "all-inorganic" metallocene, [Ti(η-P5)2]2-. Also, bis(anthracene)ferrate(1-) was documented in 2007 to be the first available storable source of the atomic Fe- ion in its reaction with 1,3-butadiene to provide a previously unknown pure butadiene iron complex, [Fe(η4-C4H6)2]-. Our most recent triumph, and one we are quite proud of, is in the synthesis and characterization of tris(naphthalene)hafnate(2-), the first hydrocarbon-stabilized complex to contain the very electropositive element hafnium in a negative oxidation state, Hf(II-). As depicted below in the scheme, this substance functions as the first available source of atomic Hf2- in its reactions with anthracene and 1,3,5,7-cyclooctatetraene.
Amazingly, homoleptic polyarenemetalates have only been documented for the elements Ti, Zr, Hf, Nb, Ta, Fe and Co to date (all from research in our laboratory), so the "sky is really the limit" in the investigation of related chemistry of other d-block metals, particularly those for which zero- or negative-valent complexes are either unknown or extremely rare. Plans are also in place for extension of this research to 4f-block metals, as well as certain main group metals and metalloids, and promise to afford particularly exciting results in new virtually unexplored low-valent systems. 

John Ellis research image
Honors and Awards

Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, 2008

F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry, 2004, a national prize of the American Chemical Society

National Science Foundation Special Creativity Award, 1994

Alexander von Humboldt Senior U. S. Scientist Research Prize, 1993

Selected Publications
  1. J.E. Ellis, “The Chatt Reaction: conventional routes to homoleptic arenemetalates of d-block elementsDalton Trans., 2019, 48, 9538-9562 (Correction: Dalton Trans., 2019, 48, 16123) An invited Perspective article on aspects of the last 25 years of my research program and final publication as a member of the core faculty at the University of Minnesota, which spanned the period from August 15, 1971, to May 26, 2019. However, research remains vital, so hopefully many more are on the way!
  2. B.E. Kucera, C.J. Roberts, V.G. Young Jr, W.W. Brennessel, and J.E. Ellis, “Niobium isocyanide complexes, Nb(CNAr)6, with Ar = 2,6-dimethylphenyl, a diamagnetic dimer containing four reductively coupled isocyanides, and Ar = 2,6-diisopropylphenyl, a paramagnetic monomer analogous to the highly unstable hexacarbonylniobium(0)Acta Cryst. 2019, C75, 1259-1265.
  3. W.W. Brennessel,  J.E. Ellis, R. Wolf, U. Chakraborty, P. Buschelberger, and C. Rodl, “(18-Crown-6)bis(tetrahydrofuran)potassium bis(1,2,3,4-anthracene)metallates of cobalt(-I) and iron ( Synth. 2018, 37, 67-72.
  4. K. Chakarawet, Z.W. Davis-Gilbert, S. Harstad, V.G. Young Jr., J.R. Long, J.E. Ellis, "Ta(CNDipp)6: An Isocyanide Analog of Hexacarbonyltantalum(0)," Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 10577-10581. Awarded "VIP" status. 
  5. W.W. Brennessel, J.E. Ellis. "Naphthalene and Anthracene Cobaltates(1-): Useful Storable Sources of an Atomic Cobalt Anion,” Inorg. Chem. 2012, 51, 9076-9094.
  6. R.E. Jilek, M. Jang, E.D. Smolenski, D. Britton, J.E. Ellis, "Structurally Distinct Homoleptic Anthracene Complexes, Tris(anthracene)metallates(2-) of Titanium, Zirconium, and Hafnium: Tris(arene) Complexes for a Triad of Transition Metals,” Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2008, 47, 8692-8695. Awarded "VIP" status.
  7. V.J. Sussman, J.E. Ellis, “From Storable Sources of Atomic Nb(1-) and Ta(1-) to Isolable Anionic Tris(1,3-butadiene)metal Complexes: [M(eta-4-C4H6)3](1-), M= Nb, Ta," Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2008, 47, 484-489. Awarded "VIP" status.
  8. M.V. Barybin, W.W. Brennessel, B.E. Kucera, M.E. Minyaev, V.J. Sussman, V.G. Young Jr., J.E. Ellis, "Homoleptic Isocyanidemetalates of 4d- and 5d-Transition Metals: [Nb(CNXyl)6](1-), [Ta(CNXyl)6](1-) and Derivatives Thereof,J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2007, 129, 1141-1150.
  9. W.W. Brennessel, J.E. Ellis, "[Fe(CNXyl)4](2-): An Isolable and Structurally Characterized Homoleptic Isocyanidemetalate Dianion,” Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2007, 46, 598-600.
  10. J.E. Ellis, "Adventures with Substances Containing Metals in Negative Oxidation States," Inorg. Chem. 2006, 45, 3167 (Award article; cover illustration).

Mailing Address

John E. Ellis
University of Minnesota
Department of Chemistry
A-9, 139 Smith Hall
207 Pleasant St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0431