Funding for novel catalysis research

"In-the-box" ideas awarded a two million euro grant

2 June 2015

Chemists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Groningen University (RUG) are starting a large-scale collaboration on "Catalysis in Confined Spaces". Their project was awarded a two million euro TOP-PUNT grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The UvA research will be part of the Research Priority Area Sustainable Chemistry .

The groups of professors Gadi Rothenberg, Joost Reek (both UvA) and Ben Feringa (RUG) have joined forces in the five-year project that seeks to find answers to a simple yet baffling question: How does a catalyst work when it is constrained in a small "box" of nanometric dimensions? This may seem trivial, but being "close to the wall" is very different than being "in the middle of the crowd", as any student who has been to a large music festival will tell you.

The researchers from both the Van 't Hoff Institute of Molecular Sciences at the UvA and the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry at the RUG will try and unravel this mystery by connecting their expertise from the fields of homogeneous catalysis, heterogeneous catalysis, biocatalysis and organic synthesis.

Molecular cages

The TOP-PUNT grant will fund eight PhD projects on the design, synthesis and study of various types of soluble and solid (supra)molecular cages which will be large enough for reacting several molecules simultaneously. 

TOP-PUNT research on molecular cages

One of the project concepts, where a catalytic reaction is initiated via a site on one face of the “box”, and terminated on another face.

By trapping (molecular) catalysts in the cages and/or inserting other reactive sites into the cage walls, the teams will create tailored reaction environments, controlling reactions via second-coordination sphere and entropy effects.The sophisticated catalysts will be used in a variety of reactions and even for propelling nano-objects.

Four PhD students will work on soluble supramolecular cages, analogous to the basic units of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and enzyme cavities. Another four will focus on supercage solids: MOFs, linked graphene layers, and carbon nanotubes.

Coordinated effort

The project will cement the ties between the Amsterdam and Groningen chemistry departments. The PhD projects will be co-supervised by Dr Jarl Ivar van der Vlugt, Dr Stefania Grecea, Dr Raveendran Shiju, Dr David Dubbeldam, Dr Jan van Maarseveen and Prof. Dr Bas de Bruin from UvA, and Prof. Dr Wesley Browne and Dr Sander Wezenberg from RUG.

Rothenberg, who has coordinated the proposal, is very happy with the project: "When we started thinking about catalysis in confined spaces, we quickly realised that this is an intricate problem that can only be solved by a coordinated effort. We got eight high-quality scientists to collaborate on writing these PhD projects. The concept wherein all of the results, methods and equipment will be shared by all researchers will increase the chances of the project’s success”.

Published by  HIMS