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27 June 2002

New Long-Term Collaborative Research Project at the University of Heidelberg — Tailor-Made Catalyst Molecules Control and Accelerate Chemical Reactions

Research aimed at innovative, environment-friendly chemical synthesis methods — Total funding 4.2 million euros

A long-planned chemical research programme at the University of Heidelberg will be starting up in July 2002. The German Research Council has approved the establishment of a new Long-Term Collaborative Research Project at the University substantially reinforcing and coordinating activities in one of the main fields of research pursued by the Faculty of Chemistry. "The new Project (SFB 623 — Molecular Catalysts: Structure and Functional Design)," said Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff, "will engage in broadly conceived and interdisciplinary basic research on catalysis and enhance the University of Heidelberg's leading status in the research sector." 21 scientists and their research groups will be collaborating on 18 different projects.

"We are immensely gratified by the Research Council's decision," said Prof. Dr. Peter Hofmann, administrative director of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and initiator and spokesman of the New Collaborative Project. "The generous endowment involved translates into over two dozen new posts for scientists and the necessary outlay on the very latest equipment and enables us to pursue catalysis research on a par with our international competitors. The resources allotted to us are a token of recognition for Heidelberg's outstanding competitive showing both at the national and international level and will make Heidelberg even more attractive for staff and students." The Collaborative Project receives additional resources from its research cooperation agreement with BASF. One of the things the company will be funding is the international symposium "Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Catalysis" scheduled to take place again next year (27 June 2003).

Long-Term Collaborative Research Projects normally run for 12 years (provided interim evaluations are positive). Funding comes from the German Research Council with additional resources provided by the state government, the Federal government and the University. Such Projects are conditional upon proof of scientific excellence at the institutions concerned. They also serve to encourage upcoming generations of scientists/scholars and to integrate teaching and research.

Welcoming the good news from the German Research Council, Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff said: "This new Collaborative Project is another proof of the high quality of research in Heidelberg. Over and above that, it is an opportunity to improve on that excellence even further. In terms of developments in the European research landscape, this gets Heidelberg off on the right foot."

Molecular catalysts: efficient synthesis machines at the atomic level

The development of catalysts is one of the crucial forward-looking technologies of the 21st century. Catalysts are substances that — without undergoing any permanent chemical change — systematically increase the rate of chemical reactions, minimise energy consumption, prevent unwanted by- or waste products (e.g. exhaust-fume catalysts in cars) and thus facilitate chemical synthesis methods that are resource-aware, environmentally friendly and optimally efficient both in economic and ecological terms.

Put simply, molecular catalysts are molecules with "tailor-made" operative features. In only a few seconds, and with one single catalysis molecule, good catalysts can spark the proliferation of many thousand molecules of a desired product. In living organisms it is the enzymes that take over this job, instituting biochemical change processes swiftly, efficiently and with a high degree of selectivity even at body temperature.

Interdisciplinary, cross-department basic research

The new Collaborative Project integrates research groups from the Institutes of Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry, from the Department of Pharmacy, the Department of Technical Chemistry and the Centre of Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing. The central objective is to coordinate the experimental and theoretical expertise of all involved to achieve a profound basic understanding of catalytic processes at the molecular and atomic levels.

The issues addressed in the Project range from catalytic processes in the living cell (biocatalysis) to the design and optimisation of the molecular structures of crucial industrial catalysts. They also encompass research on innovative catalytic processes in the production of medical drugs and medicinal substances, the development of novel laser methods for studying the way catalysts work and the use of computers in predicting and planning optimal catalyst structures.

Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Peter Hofmann
Administrative Director
Institute of Organic Chemistry
Chair of Organic Chemistry III
University of Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 270
D-69120 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/548502 (secretary: 548415), fax: 544885
ph@phindigo.oci.uni-heidelberg.de

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html


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Updated: 22.07.2002

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