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17 July 2003

Catalysis: A Technology for the Future

The Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Catalysis 2003 was an international symposium with well over 500 participants — BASF once again a generous sponsor

A few days ago, the second Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Catalysis (HFMC) took place at the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences of the University of Heidelberg. The one-day symposium attracted a host of internationally renowned scientists and was organised jointly by the University of Heidelberg, the long-term collaborative research project No. 623 on "Molecular Catalysts: Structure and Functional Design" set up at Heidelberg's Faculty of Chemistry last year by the German Research Council ( and the BASF company, figuring once more as a generous sponsor.

Prior to the scientific symposium proper and occasioned by the "Year of Chemistry 2003", there was a forum on catalysis attended by secondary school pupils in their final year from the Rhine-Neckar area and the region, their teachers and chemistry students. Professor Thomas J. J. Müller was given an enthusiastic reception by the numerous participants for his extremely graphic lecture on "How to Help Molecules Get Moving". With his assistants he gave an impressive demonstration of the various forms of catalysis, illustrated by carefully selected and visually striking experiments.

After the one-hour lecture, participants were given the opportunity to take a closer look at six experimental bays set up and looked after with exemplary commitment by researchers from BASF. Here they were able to gen up on the chemical principles underlying fundamental catalytic processes and to do a little experimenting themselves.

The large number of students and teachers (350 in all) thronging the lecture hall despite the lure of the summer weather indicated once more the high degree of interest evinced by young people in scientific problems in general, and chemistry in particular, as long as they are presented in an interesting way and carefully explained. The event was clear evidence of the fact that the foundations for successful chemical research are laid not only at university but much earlier, in the schools.

The Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Catalysis 2003 was an international symposium attended by well over 500 scientists and researchers from the universities and from industry, including almost all the prominent German catalysis researchers and numerous internationally renowned catalysis experts from abroad, all of whom were enthusiastic about the quality of the lectures they heard. The plenary lectures by three of the world's top catalysis researchers, Professor Maurice S. Brookhart (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA), Professor John F. Hartwig (Yale University, USA) and Professor Eric N. Jacobsen (Harvard University, USA), reported on the very latest results produced by front-line catalysis research. At the same time, the event was a forum for an intensive exchange of ideas and opinions, illustrated by a large-scale poster presentation. Like the closing dinner, it gave the upcoming generation of chemists plenty of opportunity to engage in informal discussion with the established "stars" in their field.

"Research on molecular catalysts is a central concern here at the Institute of Chemistry in Heidelberg. It looks at molecules tailored by chemists or by nature to act as highly efficient 'synthesis machines' of atomic dimensions that can systematically join, break down or convert other molecules, thus providing new agents and innovative materials while at the same time making optimum use of our energy and raw materials resources." These were the words of Prof. Peter Hofmann, director at the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Heidelberg University, and initiator of the Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Catalysis. He and his team were responsible for organising the symposium.

Prof. Hofmann also had this to say: "Catalysis research is an interdisciplinary research area par excellence. It requires and draws on all fields of modern chemistry and is unparalleled in the way it provides training opportunities for younger scientists and cooperative ventures between academic and industrial research."

The conference also underlined the significant role played by the Rhine-Neckar region in promoting basic research and encouraging younger scientists working in the field of catalysis and also the attraction it exerts on young scientists from all over the world. The BASF Catalysis Award 2003, worth € 10,000 and donated by the BASF company, went to an outstanding young researcher, Privatdozent Dr. Stefan Mecking from Freiburg. The award was presented by Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, executive board member and research spokesman of BASF. "Catalysis is a research field with huge innovative potential," he said. "It is a key technology for mastering the challenges of the future. We at BASF accordingly consider it very important to support talented young researchers in their work in this field." Dr. Mecking gave a plenary lecture on his own research activities. He works at the Materials Research Centre and the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry of the University of Freiburg. His research centres on catalysts for the environment-friendly production of novel, tailor-made plastics with innovative features.

The huge acclaim and the enthusiastic response from many participants at this highly successful conference clearly indicate that the Heidelberg Forum of Molecular Analysis has established itself in the world of chemistry and catalysis research as a very prominent and high-ranking event. As such it has done much to enhance the image of the Rhine-Neckar area as a leading research region and to strengthen Heidelberg's position against its international competitors.

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Peter Hofmann
Institute of Organic Chemistry
Chair of Organic Chemistry III
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/548502 (secretary: 548415), fax: 544885

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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