Since he began research at the University of California, Davis in 1981, Power has pursued an intensely active program of exploratory synthesis that has touched numerous areas and greatly expanded knowledge of structures, bonding and reactivity of inorganic/organometallic compounds. This is reflected in more than 530 publications that deal mostly with the synthesis of highly original, exotic main group and transition metal compounds.
His initial work in the early 1980s pioneered the application of new crystal handling techniques for X-ray crystallographic analysis to highly unstable air and moisture sensitive compounds in collaboration with colleague Hakon Hope. The structures of numerous compounds that were previously inaccessible were determined. The very first were the halide-free and halide-rich phenyllithium etherates (1983) which showed how halide was an inseparable part of the structure. The first structures of several other organolithium and lithium organocuprates (Gilman reagents) followed. He pioneered the use of crown ethers to complex the lithium ions and obtain salt- separated structures of ‘free’ carbanions (1985) and related anions, which were the first such examples. These crystal handling techniques have now been universally adopted.
Power is more widely recognized, however, for the synthesis of previously unknown compound types that break conventional rules of bonding and structure. His ‘firsts’ are too many to list here but began with the synthesis of unknown heavier element (Al, Ga, P or As) borazine analogs (1987-1991), compounds with boron-boron (1992) and boron-carbon (1987) double bonds and multiple bonds to several other group including aluminum and its heavier element congeners. Arguably, his best known accomplishment is the synthesis of the dichromium species ArCrCrAr (Ar = terphenyl ligand) in 2005. containing a five-fold bond between two chromium atoms. The isolation of a compound with a quintuple bond was a long sought-after goal, but Power and coworkers overcame the challenge of creating a suitably protected metal environment by using terphenyl ligands introduced earlier by him (cf. review, 1999)
Related to this achievement was the synthesis of the main group/ transition metal triple-bonded complex Cp(CO)2MoGeAr (1996), also stabilized by a terphenyl group (Ar), which was the first, well-characterized triple bond to a heavier main group element. This report heralded the use of terphenyl ligands to synthesize other unusual main group species, including the first structurally characterized stable heavier main group radicals (1997). Arguably a more important achievement was the first stable heavier group 14 element alkyne analogues (2000-2002). Unlike alkynes, these compounds had trans-bent structures with frontier orbitals which reacted with small molecules such as hydrogen (2005), this notable result was the first demonstration of such reactivity for a main group compound under ambient conditions. Later the reactions were shown to be reversible for both hydrogen (2019) and olefins (2009). The earlier work paved the way for the now widespread study of the reactivity of main group compounds with small molecules and the use of main group compounds in catalysis.In addition he and his group synthesized the first low-valent group 14 hydrides and established their close relationship to the multiple bonded species This work led to the room temperature isolation of hydrides of the heavier elements lead and bismuth.
In addition to his wide-ranging work with main group element derivatives he has also made numerous important contributions to transition metal chemistry. In addition to his early work on the structure of Gilman reagents mentioned above and quintuple bonded complexes , he has made seminal contributions to the study of low coordinate transition metal complexes. For example, in the mid 1980s the only known example of an open shell (d1-d9) transition metal two-coordinate complex was a d5 manganese dialkyl. In work that is ongoing, Power and his group synthesized the first two-coordinate d3, d4, d6, d7,d8 and d9 complexes using a variety of ligands. In collaborative magnetic studies with G. and J. Long and W. Reiff) many of these complexes, e.g. those with d6 and d7 configurations, were shown to have very large orbital moments and to behave as single molecule magnets at low temperature. Power and coworkers also pioneered the use of 1H NMR spectroscopy as a key technique for their study and used it to study association equilibria (both ligand and self) for the two- and three-coordinate species. In addition he and his group have clarified numerous contradictory tata (some erroneous) in the early literature of the area.
Power’s many contributions are not limited to his ground-breaking journal papers however. The reviews and perspectives he has authored have helped transform our understanding of bonding in general. In 1999 (updated in 2012) the multiple bonded heavier main group compounds were comprehensively reviewed. These explained how their bonding differed so profoundly from that in lighter element analogues. He was among the first to recognize the crucial importance of second order Jahn-Teller effects in the frontier orbitals of the heavy element derivatives. led to a rich chemistry reminiscent of that of the transition elements as featured in his review in Nature (2010). He also wrote a pioneering review on the poorly known, two-coordinate, open-shell (d1–d9) transition metal complexes to which the quintuple bonded chromium species is related. More recently (Nature Chemistry Reviews, 2017), he highlighted the almost unknown role of London dispersion forces in influencing the structure and stability of many inorganic and organometallic complexes. In fact such forces are often the key factor enabling the isolation of multiple bonded species.
In addition to his original research work, Power’s activities have included service as associate editor, 2004-2019, of Inorganic Chemistry, Editor-in-Chief of Volume 37 of Inorganic Syntheses, (2018), and has served on twelve editorial advisory boards. Power has received several awards and honors, he was the recipient of the Ludwig Mond Medal (2005), the ACS F. A. Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry (2005) and the ACS Organometallic Chemistry Award (2012). He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2005.
Power’s record establishes him as one of the foremost synthetic chemists in the world whose accomplishments have led to a greatly increased understanding of bonding.