The two Collaborative Research Centres based at the Faculty of Chemistry, SFB/TRR 247 Heterogeneous Oxidation Catalysis in the Liquid Phase and SFB 1093 Supramolecular Chemistry on Proteins, are in their first and second funding period, respectively. Both teams are making excellent progress. Audits for a second and third funding phase, will take place over the course of the next two years. The NRW Forschungskolleg Future Water and the DFG Priority Programme 2122 Materials for Additive Manufacturing are also based at the Faculty of Chemistry; their work has been similarly successful. We presented these ongoing collaborative projects at length in the last research report. Three CRCs and CRC/TRRs were established and extended, in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The Faculty of Chemistry was a major contributor to this development. The CRC/TRR 270 Hysteresis Design of Magnetic Materials for Efficient Energy Conversion, based at TU Darmstadt, works on developing and characterising new magnetic materials as a core element of efficient energy technologies. In particular, it focuses on two major categories of magnetic materials: strong, permanent magnets based on rare-earth metals with maximised hysteresis and soft magnets with minimised hysteresis. CRC 1439, Multilevel Response to Stressor Increase and Release in Stream Ecosystems, is based at the Faculty of Biology. The project studies the impact of three selected stressors – tempe­rature, salinisation and hydromorphological degradation – on the components of the stream food web and on ecosystem functions. CRC 1242 Non-equilibrium Dynamics of Condensed Matter in the Time Domain, based at the Faculty of Physics, has been extended. In its first funding phase, the researchers deepened their understanding of these dynamics. Now, the project focuses on manipulating non-equilibrium dynamics through ultrashort, pulsed external stimuli, such as light, pressure and tension. Professor Eckart Hasselbrink’s and Professor Sebastian Schlücker’s research groups, both from the field of physical chemistry, represent the Faculty of Chemistry in the project. They apply methods of ultrashort laser spectroscopy (IR/Raman) to observe the behaviour of molecules on surfaces.

Scientists of the Faculty of Chemistry have been working on two projects on the origin of life for several years. The collaborative project of Professor Christian Mayer, Professor Oliver J. Schmitz and Professor Ulrich Schreiber involves deep drilling in the Eifel in order to corroborate the theory of the emergence of the first protocells in the depth of Earth’s crust. The core samples, collected from a depth of about one kilometre, are analysed at the Applied Analytical Chemistry group to determine whether they contain any possible precursors of biomolecules that were created in the geological environment. All results are compared with analyses of Australian quartz crystals that are more than three billion years old. Notably, there are long-chain hydrocarbons which were oxidised and spontaneously formed membranes due to their amphiphilic properties. The analysis also found amino acids and precursors of nucleotides. Our physical chemistry team now manages a research group of the German Astrobiological Society (DAbG) focusing on prebiotic chemistry. The team’s work on peptide evolution in deep-reaching tectonic faults has continued.

In the second origin-of-life project, which has been funded by the Volkswagen Foundation since 2019, Professor Bettina Siebers, Dr Christopher Bräsen and Dr Sven Meckelmann work with colleagues from the Faculty of Biology and the Wageningen University & Research to solve an issue in evolutionary biology that continues to puzzle researchers: how were eukaryotes able to develop from the archaea domain? The project ‘Lipid Divide’ seeks to understand the timing and causes of a fundamental change that occurred in the composition of the membrane lipids during the evolutionary process of eukaryotes.

In the field of chemistry education, several research projects took place during the introductory study phase. Professor Maik Walpuski’s BMBF-funded CASSIS project (‘Chemie, Sozialwissenschaften und Ingenieurwissenschaften: Studienerfolg und Studienabbruch’), which examined institutional and individual variables influencing academic drop-out, concluded successfully. Three members of the chemistry education group – Professor Stefan Rumann, Professor Elke Sumfleth and Professor Maik Walpuski – are participating in the DFG-ALSTER projects, which explore the perception of models in chemistry courses and the influence of digital feedback on exercises.

The outstanding success of our Faculty’s young researchers in competitive programmes has been a particular highlight of the past years. Professor Jochen Niemeyer, Professor Michael Giese and PD Dr Bilal Gökce were accepted into the DFG Heisenberg Programme; Professor Corina Andronescu secured a BMBF NanoMatFutur early-career research group; Dr  Kai Exner was accepted into the academic returnee programme of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Having outlined our Faculty’s ongoing research alliances, we dedicate the remainder of this year’s report to the work of our young members.

Professor Corina Andronescu’s project ‘MatGasDif’, which is funded within the scope of the BMBF’s NanoMatFutur research competition for early-career scientists, seeks to optimise electrocatalytic CO2 reduction in terms of catalyst selectivity and electrode stability. Her team works on developing catalyst materials that selectively catalyse the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to basic chemicals such as ethanol or ethylene while suppressing parasitic hydrogen evolution as much as possible. The project aims to go further than merely designing catalysts. Its objective is to develop an optimised, porous composite electrode architecture. Ideally, the active catalyst will be embedded stably into this architecture, facilitating the selective conversion of CO2 at industrially relevant current densities. In particular, MatGasDif seeks to establish strategies for immobilising several different catalyst materials within a carbon matrix. This causes complex secondary reactions to occur in a specific order as a cascade reaction, which increases the selectivity of the reaction.

Interlocked molecular architectures have been known since the last century, but their application is still in its infancy. They consist of several components that are topologically connected, much like the links of a chain or a ring on a bilaterally closed axis. In 2016, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to a team of researchers who mastered the highly complex production of interlocked molecular architectures. At the University of Duisburg-Essen, Professor Jochen Niemeyer and his research group use interlocked molecular architectures in processes of cooperative catalysis, where two active units work in concert to control a reaction. They focus particularly on stereoselective catalysis to create chiral products. The German Research Foundation (DFG) accepted Professor Niemeyer’s project ‘Cooperative Systems Based on Chiral Organophosphoric Acids’ to its Heisenberg Programme in 2019. Since November 2020, he has been continuing his work at the Faculty of Chemistry in the capacity of Heisenberg Professor of Organic and Supramolecular Chemistry.

Professor Michael Giese holds a junior

endowment professorship funded by the

Professor Werdelmann Foundation. Since Professor Carsten Schmuck’s tragic passing in 2019, however, he has been representing his late colleague at the Chair of Organic Chemistry. Professor Giese has also received funding under the DFG Heisenberg Programme for his project on supramolecular liquid crystals (‘Supramolekulare Flüssigkristalle – Ein modulares Konzept für „smartere“ Materialien’) in 2020. He and his team are working on a modular kit whose components can be combined to form substances with specific properties. The project focuses on liquid crystals. With the modular kit, the researchers can create liquid crystals with structural colouration, for example. The liquid crystalline materials are also adaptive, meaning that they react to environmental changes. During changes of temperature or in the presence of certain chemicals, the liquid crystals can adapt by changing their properties. This may alter their colour, for instance, which is useful in constructing sensors. Professor Giese intends to continue his work at the Faculty of Chemistry in the capacity of Heisenberg Professor of Supramolecular Chemistry. The appointment procedure is currently in progress.

In addition to their own research, Michael Giese and Jochen Niemeyer (along with Junior Professor Jens Voskuhl and Dr Christoph Hirschhäuser) help to supervise the research group of the late Professor Carsten Schmuck, since 2019. The first doctoral candidates in the group have already completed their doctorates, and many excellent academic works were completed and published in 2020. In honour of Professor Schmuck’s scientific achievements and his role as a researcher, colleague and mentor, his young colleagues have collaboratively produced a review of his life’s academic work. Their article ‘Guanidiniocarbonyl-Pyrroles (GCP) – 20 Years of the Schmuck Binding Motif’, published in ChemPlusChem, provides an overview of the GCP binding motif and its entire scope of application. It focuses especially on molecular recognition, (self-)assembly, material applications and biosupramolecular chemistry.

To this day, the enormous potential of powder-based 3D printing remains partially untapped, as many of the available materials are simply not suitable for 3D printers. PD Dr Bilal Gökce’s project, funded under the Heisenberg Programme, seeks to facilitate 3D printing of new materials through the targeted addition of nanoparticles and improve the properties of 3D-printed polymer and metal components. His approach is as follows. Firstly, he studies ways of upscaling laser-based colloid synthesis and controlling the nanoparticles it produces. Secondly, he uses these nanoparticles to develop new powder for 3D-printing magnets, lenses or materials with special mechanical properties. With this comprehensive strategy, he aims to examine the entire process chain of 3D printing from the input material down to the finished component. Meanwhile, PD Dr Gökce has accepted a call to the chair of materials for additive manufacturing at the University of Wuppertal.

Dr Kai S. Exner holds a Feodor Lynen Scholarship in theoretical chemistry from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His junior research group focuses on the theoretical description of electrically charged solid/liquid interfaces, which occur in batteries, fuel cells and electrolysers. The solid/liquid interface is particularly challenging to model, as it constitutes a dynamic, multi-scale problem which depends not only on the composition of the electrode material and the physical and chemical dynamics of the adjacent aqueous electrolytes but also on external parameters, such as pressure, temperature and, in particular, electrode potential. Realistic description, then, requires a combination of methods involving various time and length scales, density functional theory, molecular dynamic simulations, microkinetic models and screening techniques.

Dr Exner recently secured funding for a junior research group under the NRW academic returnee programme, which encourages highly qualified early-career researchers to continue their careers in North Rhine-Westphalia following extended stays abroad. In the funded project, the group examines the solid/liquid interface in metal-air batteries using a multi-scale model in order to gain understanding of the complex interplay of factors that influence efficient, bifunctional electrode materials for oxygen electrocatalysis in aqueous and non-aqueous electrolytes. Dr Exner plans to use the funding to establish his research group at the Faculty of Chemistry based on a recent call for a tenure-track junior professorship in inorganic chemistry, which focuses on the structural analysis of inorganic materials. His call is a case in point for the increasing permeability of traditional discipline boundaries, in this instance between inorganic and theoretical chemistry.