The Electron Is a Catalyst

Nat Chem. 2014 Sep;6(9):765-73. doi: 10.1038/nchem.2031.


The electron is an efficient catalyst for conducting various types of radical cascade reaction that proceed by way of radical and radical ion intermediates. But because electrons are omnipresent, catalysis by electrons often passes unnoticed. In this Review, a simple analogy between acid/base catalysis and redox catalysis is presented. Conceptually, the electron is a catalyst in much the same way that a proton is a catalyst. The 'electron is a catalyst' paradigm unifies mechanistically an assortment of synthetic transformations that otherwise have little or no apparent relationship. Diverse radical cascades, including unimolecular radical substitution reactions (SRN1-type chemistry), base-promoted homolytic aromatic substitutions (BHAS), radical Heck-type reactions, radical cross-dehydrogenative couplings (CDC), direct arene trifluoromethylations and radical alkoxycarbonylations, can all be viewed as electron-catalysed reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catalysis*
  • Electrons*
  • Free Radicals


  • Free Radicals