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Find out more about ORCS history and mission.

The Organic Reactions Catalysis Society seeks to advance practical applications of catalysis for making organic compounds by fostering discussions, providing opportunities for members to present their work, and facilitating dissemination of scientific knowledge.

We convene a biennial conference to discuss technological breakthroughs, share expertise and build scientific and business relationships.

We publish our conference proceedings as a resource to the science community.

A Brief History of the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society -By Prof. Robert Augustine

In order to appreciate the early years of ORCS and its evolution over time, it is necessary to understand the nature of the catalysis conferences and meetings that were held prior to the mid 1960’s. The primary emphasis of these conferences was on the basic principles, theories and the engineering aspects of catalysis. These topics were of interest to physical, colloid and surface chemists and petroleum and chemical engineers. This is not to say that synthetic applications of catalysis were not recognized but the use of such reactions, primarily hydrogenations, as synthetic tools was practiced mainly by pharmaceutical companies with some interest also found in the fine chemical and flavor and fragrance industries. All of the major pharmaceutical firms had a hydrogenation section dedicated to the development of selective catalytic hydrogenation procedures for the synthesis of complex organic compounds. The men who were the heads of these hydrogenation laboratories are a virtual “Who’s Who” in the area of selective hydrogenations. However, about the only venue they had for the publication or discussion of any of their non-proprietary results was in standard Organic Chemistry meetings and journals.

In the early 1960’s two of these men, Morris Friefelder of Abbot and Bill Pearlman of Parke-Davis brought together a group of these hydrogenation “experts” who felt that some forum should be developed for the presentation and discussion of the more practical aspects of the use of catalysis in the synthesis of organic compounds. Those involved in this discussion were, in retrospect, the founding fathers of ORCS: Dale Blackburn of Smith Kline & French, Jack Campbell of Lilly, Bill Jones of Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Mel Rebenstorf of Upjohn, Bill Selby of G.D. Searle, Dave Wagner of Hoffman LaRoche and Joe O’Conner of CIBA as well as one of the prime movers in this area, Paul Rylander of Engelhard.

These discussions led to the conclusion that a conference was needed to facilitate the exchange of information in this area, a conference in which papers on the practical use of catalysis in organic synthesis could be presented and discussed. The result was the conference on “Catalytic Hydrogenation and Related Pressure Reactions” held in June, 1966, at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City and sponsored by the New York Academy of Science. Since this was the first conference which emphasized the more practical aspects of catalytic hydrogenation, attendance was very high, in excess of 350 attendees. This was followed by three more biennial conferences with the same title even though the Academy had a policy of not sponsoring multiple conferences on a single topic, a factor which indicated the importance which the Academy gave to this subject.

Obviously, most of the papers presented at these meetings were concerned with the various aspects of heterogeneously catalyzed hydrogenations but papers on laboratory design and safety were also included. Interestingly, the second conference which was held in 1968, one year after the publication of the seminal paper by Geoff Wilkinson describing the first viable organometallic homogeneous hydrogenation catalyst, included a section on homogeneous catalytic hydrogenation. This trend was followed in successive conferences with the number of papers related to the use of homogeneous catalysts increasing with each conference. The third and fourth conferences are notable in that they contained papers by William Knowles of Monsanto in which he described the development of the chiral rhodium complex which was subsequently used for the commercial production of l-dopa which is used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. For his work in this area Bill received the Rylander award from ORCS in 1996 and, ultimately, shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ryoji Noyori for “their work on chirally catalyzed hydrogenation reactions” and Barry Sharpless for “his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions.” Incidentally, Barry received the Rylander award in 2000.

At this stage, however, continuing Academy support for further conferences was not forthcoming so a small group of active participants in these meetings worked to independently sponsor the next conference. This group called itself The Organic Reactions Catalysis Society (ORCS) and in discussions leading to the formulation of a general policy for future meetings it became clear that the title used for the first four conferences did not accurately describe the groups’ changing interests so “Catalysis in Organic Synthesis” was adopted for future meetings. The three conferences with this title which were held between 1975 and 1978 can be described as a transitional period for the organization. The NYAS provided the logistic and editorial support for the first four meetings but the new Executive Committee of ORCS now had the responsibility for site selection, fund raising, publication of the proceedings and the many other details needed to run a successful meeting. It was also during this time that ORCS became affiliated with the North American Catalysis Society (NACS) and a formal policy adopted to have the ORCS biennial meetings held on even numbered years in order not to conflict with the NACS biennial national meetings which are held on odd numbered years. During this “transitional period” the diminishing attendance at the conferences raised some doubt concerning the future viability of the organization.

These doubts were alleviated by the significant success of the eighth conference, held in 1980, in which the scope of the conference was extended to cover catalytic process technologies and the problem of alternate feedstocks for chemical processes influenced for the most part by dwindling crude oil reserves. (Sounds somewhat familiar in today’s context.) This inclusion of catalytic process technology was signified by another change in the conference titles to “Catalysis of Organic Reactions” a title which more accurately described the mission of ORCS and is still in use today. Many of those attending this conference returned to future ORCS meetings and became a part of the group which formed the ‘core’ of the organization.

Subsequent conferences were held with an average attendance of about 200 or so. Most went off with little, if any, problems. One departure from this norm was the tenth conference held in 1984 which was originally scheduled to be held in Richmond. However, after all of the speakers had been selected and the program almost ready to be printed, the hotel at which the meeting was to be held cancelled the meeting. It seems that a local civic organization wanted to use the hotel during the week scheduled for the ORCS conference and ORCS lost. It was, however, fortunate that a hotel in Williamsburg, Maryland, had just had a similarly sized meeting cancelled for this time period so ORCS was able to simply move the locale to what most attendees considered to be a more favorable site. However, there was another problem waiting in the form of a severe thunderstorm one evening which knocked out all of the electricity to the hotel resulting in several attendees being trapped in the elevators for several hours.

It was thought that if the meetings were held too far from the centers of pharmaceutical and chemical research it might be difficult for their chemists to justify the travel to an ORCS meeting so the first six meetings were held along the Eastern Seaboard. A tentative step away from this perceived problem was taken with the scheduling of the seventh conference in Chicago and the eighth in New Orleans. This perception was further tested with the twelfth conference being held in San Antonio. The success of this meeting led to a gradual western movement with the fourteenth meeting held in Albuquerque and the sixteenth in Phoenix. The success of these meetings and the nineteenth, held again in San Antonio, is a measure of the importance which the fine chemical and pharmaceutical industries attribute to ORCS. That and the fact that there is a growing chemical industry in California bodes well for the success of the upcoming twenty third conference held in Monterey, California. A complete list of all conference dates, locations and chairmen can be obtained by clicking on the “Past Conferences” link found on the ORCS home page.

A measure of the increasing maturity of the organization can be found in the development of the Executive Board of ORCS. Originally, the Board was composed of the Chairman, Chairman-Elect, the Secretary-Treasurer, five elected Directors and the ORCS representative to the NACS Board. The Chairman-Elect was responsible for organizing the biennial meeting and usually did so with little formal assistance. It was soon realized that having the Chairman-Elect organize the meeting was not a good idea so the responsibility was passed to the Chairman of the Society. At one time an attempt was made to ensure that the chemical industry, academia and the catalyst suppliers were all represented by at least one director on the board. However, this proved to be unwieldy as well as unnecessary since such balance has been attained during the normal nomination and voting process. Currently, the Board is composed of the Chairman, the Chairman-Elect, the immediate Past Chairman, the Secretary/Treasurer, five Directors, the representative to the NACS Board, a Webmaster and a Non-North American Director. This later position became necessary by the existence of a sister organization in Europe, the Catalysis and Fine Chemical (CAFC) group which began with a conference in Poitiers, France on Heterogeneous Catalysis and Fine Chemicals in 1987. This organization and ORCS have coordinated their meetings so that they are also staggered with the CAFC having theirs usually on odd numbered years. The number of foreign attendees to the ORCS conferences has increased considerably over the years with between one-third and one-half of the papers and posters originating outside the United States.

The Board has also taken on added responsibility in assisting the Chairman in organizing the biennial conference. They have added individuals to serve as an Editorial Board to review all manuscripts submitted for presentation either orally or as a poster. In addition, members of the Board are involved, for instance, in obtaining corporate sponsors for the conference as well as obtaining funds to be used to defray the expenses of students to attend the meeting. Before the thirteenth conference in 1990, the Board introduced a modification of the presentation procedure at the meetings with the inclusion of a poster session to augment the oral presentations. This has been a part of every conference since that time.

One of the more significant actions of the Board has been to begin the practice of awarding individuals for specific achievements related to the mission of the organization. In 1988 the Paul N. Rylander award was introduced for the purpose of acknowledging individuals who have made significant contributions to the use of catalysis in organic reactions. The first recipient was Paul Rylander. In 1992 the Raney Award was initiated. This award is sponsored by W.R. Grace Co. and administered by ORCS. It is made to an individual who has made significant technical contributions to chemistry and the chemical industry via catalyst technology based on that originally developed by Murray Raney. Stewart Montgomery was the first recipient of this award. More recently, ORCS began the Russell Malz Award for individuals who have given exceptional service to the Society. In 2002 Russ Malz was the first recipient of this award. A complete list of awardees can be found by clicking on the “Award” link on the ORCS home page.

One of the strong features of these ORCS conferences is the fact that the proceedings have all been published. The references to these publications are listed at the end of this document. The first four were published by the New York Academy of Science and the next three by Academic Press. This was followed by a long relationship with Marcel Dekker, Inc. until this firm was purchased by Taylor and Francis in 2004. The last few proceedings have, therefore, been published by CRC Press, an affiliate of Taylor and Francis. This aspect of the conferences will continue but not through the publication of bound volumes. Instead, the manuscripts from the twenty third conference are to be published as a special edition of the journal, Topics in Catalysis, a move which is expected to increase the visibility of these papers and increase the awareness of the catalyst community of the importance attached to the use of catalysts in organic reactions.

Author’s Bio:

Robert Augustine, Ph.D. (Professor Emeritus at Seton Hall University and Director of the Center for Applied Catalysis) has been associated with the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society from its first meeting and has attended every meeting. During the first thirty years he was actively involved in the organization and governance of the society. Since that time he has been an active participant at the conferences.
At the urging of Paul Rylander, he presented a paper at the first meeting and then worked with Paul Rylander and Joe O’Conner as a local liaison between the organizers of the next three meetings and the New York Academy of Sciences. Because of these activities he was elected to give the opening remarks for the Fourth Conference.

After the loss of NYAS support for further meetings, he was a member of the group which was responsible for the formation of ORCS and was active in developing the Constitution and By-Laws of the Society. He was a member of the Executive Committee from 1975 through 1996 in various capacities.

1975-1982 Director
1982-1984 Chairman-Elect
1984-1986 Chairman
1986-1988 Past Chairman
1988-1996 ORCS representative to North American Catalysis Society Executive Committee

In 2010 Professor Augustine’s long service to ORCS will be acknowledged in the granting of the Russell Malz Award. Professor Augustine is the only ORCS member to receive two awards from the Society (Rylander Award – 1990 and Malz Award – 2010), distinctions that he highly deserves.

ORCS Conference Proceedings

  1. Catalytic Hydrogenation and Analogous Pressure Reactions, Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., 145, 1-206 (1967) (J. M. O’Connor, Ed.).
  2. Second Conference on Catalytic Hydrogenation and Analogous Pressure Reactions, Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., 158, 439-588 (1969) (J.M. O’Connor, Ed.).
  3. Third Conference on Catalytic Hydrogenation and Analogous Pressure Reactions, Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., 172, 151-276 (1970) (M.A. Rebenstorf, Ed.).
  4. Fourth Conference on Catalytic Hydrogenation and Analogous Pressure Reactions, Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., 214, 1-275 (1973) (P.N. Rylander, Ed.).
  5. Catalysis in Organic Synthesis, 1976, Academic Press, New York, 1976 (P.N. Rylander and H. Greenfield, Eds.).
  6. Catalysis in Organic Synthesis, 1977, Academic Press, New York, 1977 (G.V. Smith, Ed.).
  7. Catalysis in Organic Synthesis, Academic Press, New York, 1980 (W.H. Jones, Ed.).
  8. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 5 Dekker, New York, 1981 (W.R. Moser, Ed.).
  9. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 18, Dekker, New York, 1984 (J.R. Kosak, Ed.).
  10. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 22, Dekker, New York, 1985 (R.L. Augustine, Ed.).
  11. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 33, Dekker, New York, 1988 (P.N. Rylander, H. Greenfield and R.L. Augustine, Eds.).
  12. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 40, Dekker, New York, 1990 (D.W. Blackburn, Ed.).
  13. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 47, Dekker, New York, 1992 (W.E. Pascoe, Ed.).
  14. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 53,, Dekker, New York, 1994 (J.R. Kosak and T.A. Johnson, Eds.).
  15. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 62, Dekker, New York, 1995 (M.G. Scaros and M.L. Prunier, Eds.).
  16. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 68, Dekker, New York, 1996 (R.E. Malz, Ed.).
  17. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 75, Dekker, New York, 1998 (F.E. Herkes, Ed.).
  18. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 82, Dekker, New York, 2001 (M.E. Ford, Ed.).
  19. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 89, Dekker, New York, 2003 (D.G. Morrell, Ed.).
  20. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 104, CRC Press, New York, 2005 (J.R. Sowa, Ed.).
  21. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 115, CRC Press, New York, 2007 (S.R. Schmidt, Ed.).
  22. Catalysis of Organic Reactions, [Chem. Ind.], 123, CRC Press, New York, 2009 (M.L. Prunier, Ed.).