Professor James' major research is concerned with determining factors that govern the binding of gases to metal centres of coordination compounds and the subsequent activation of the gases for catalytic processes; thermodynamic, kinetic and mechanistic aspects are studied. Thus, in the presence of added substrates (usually unsaturated organics), hydrogenation (H2), oxygenation and oxidation (O2), and carbonylation (CO) of the substrate are investigated, including asymmetric syntheses when the catalytic metal complex contains chiral ligands. The studies usually involve organometallic-like ancillary ligands such as tertiary-phosphines, arsines, carbonyl, hydride, NHCs,etc., and have focussed on the interaction of gases (particularly H2, O2, CO, CO2 and H2S) with complexes of Ru, Rh, Ir, Ni, Pd and Pt. Interest in biological O2- carriers and enzymatic oxygenases and oxidases (especially based on Fe porphyrins) has led to development of the porphyrin chemistry of Ru the "slowed down" second-row analogue of Fe as a probe for the Fe-enzyme systems, and for new catalysis in its own right, e.g. via more accessible, higher oxidation states (+4, +6). Organometallic-like catalysis can occur at metalloporphyrin centres, particularly via radical processes, and data from the two areas (organometallic and bioinorganic) complement each other; this leads to increased understanding of interrelationships between enzymic catalysis and "more simple" (nonprotein) homogeneous catalysis, as well as the development of efficient catalysts for presently known, and new, processes.
Research is also conducted on: (a) the evaluation of Pt metal complexes as radio-sensitizers and hypoxia imaging agents in a joint program with Dr. K.A. Skov (B.C. Cancer Research Centre), b) modification of lignin in a joint program with Dr. T. Hu (FP Innovations), and (c) conversion of lignin to organic compounds.