Henry E. Roscoe announced the isolation of vanadium in 1867. This transition metal, which helps strengthen steel, was first discovered in Mexico over 200 years ago but was lost in a shipwreck before its identity could be verified.
Alison Butler is a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research takes her around the world in search of new bioinorganic chemistry in diverse environments. The following is excerpted from Professor Butler’s essay on vanadium.
My intrigue with vanadium began in college when I discovered the brilliant colors characteristic of vanadium complexes. The multiple oxidation states stable in aqueous solution captured my interest, and I kept a careful eye out for reports on the biological role of vanadium. Since the turn of the past century, vanadium has been known to be accumulated to very high levels by ascidians (also known as tunicates or sea squirts), yet even today, the biological function of the sequestered vanadium remains a mystery. In the 1970s, a vanadium nitrogenase had been reported, then retracted, and finally rediscovered through genetic manipulations in the late 1980s as the alternative nitrogenase.
When I started out as an assistant professor in 1986 and wanted to work on a new metalloprotein in biology, I was delighted by the initial report of a vanadium haloperoxidase enzyme that is found in marine algae. Vanadium bromoperoxidase (V-BrPO) is abundant in marine algae and catalyzes the oxidation of halides (Cl2, Br2, or I2) by hydrogen peroxide, which results in the halogenation of certain organic substrates or the formation of singlet oxygen in the absence of appropriate organic substrates.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society