The faculty participates in four of the University of Duisburg-Essen’s five Main Research Areas. “Biomedical Sciences” is addressed by research groups in bioorganic and supramolecular chemistry, biomaterial research, drug discovery and release research, and biophysical chemistry. Groups from Organic, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, who already collaborate in the Centre for Medical Biotechnology (ZMB), are especially active in this field. This area is also represented in the Master’s teaching programme for Medical-Biological Chemistry. Scientists from the faculty collaborate in various joint research projects with colleagues from Biology and Medicine. Such ­collaborations have led, for example, to the development of a new class of very efficient artificial gene transfection vectors. These are small organic molecules that can efficiently transport DNA into body cells, which is of great interest in the development of new methods of gene therapy. Likewise, the faculty’s research succeeded in influencing protein deposition in Alzheimer’s disease by means of individually tailored organic molecules. On mice models at least, the scientists were able to show a significant improvement in the cognitive abilities of the test animals. Collaborating with colleagues from Physiological Chemistry, scientists from the faculty were able to develop artificial, oxygen-carrying polymer capsules which are currently being tested as blood substitutes in emergency medicine.
Colleagues from the departments of Inorganic, Organic, Physical, Technical and Theoretical Chemistry contribute to the interdisciplinary research area of “Nanosciences”. Here scientists work on numerous topics in the fields of surface chemistry and surface functionalisation, nanomaterial research, soft matter, self-assembly and self-organisation, supramolecular chemistry and crystallography. Connections to the research area of “Biomedical Sciences” also exist here in ­investigation of biological and medical aspects on the nanometre scale. Examples include the development of calcium phosphate nanoparticles as bone substitutes and investigation of the antibacterial and biological properties of silver nanoparticles. For this purpose the faculty is also able, using laser ablation in the liquid phase, to produce “naked” noble metal nanoparticles, which can then be functionalised specifically on their surface. Using a small filament for the starting material instead of conventional flatbed samples for laser ablation in liquid phase, ­multigram portions of such naked nanoparticles can now be accessed for the first time. This ­enables investigation of the specific effects such nano­particles might have on proteins, for example, without disruptive side effects from other (unwanted) particles that are also adsorbed on the surface of the nanoparticles when prepared using conventional techniques. Using superparamagnetic nanoparticles, whose surface has been modified with hydrophilic flexible polymer chains by controlled surface-initiated graft copolymerization, it has been possible to significantly improve the properties of commercialised nanofiltration membranes. Applying oscillating magnetic fields to these hybrid nanoparticles, as completely novel ‘magnetic micromixers’, causes turbulent mixing on the surface of the filtration membranes, thereby improving the flow properties of the overall system. Research on soft matter at the faculty led to the development of the first multiply switchable ­supramolecular polymers, whose macroscopic properties in a solution, e. g. viscosity, can be ­altered by adjusting the environmental parameters (e.g. adding acids/alkalines, changing temperature, presence/absence of metals). Systems like these could be of great interest as building blocks in future intelligent functionalised materials. Switchable systems such as these were also used to investigate the connection between the behaviour of a solution and internal tension. Scientists from the faculty also showed for the first time that a process, originally used only in polymer chemistry to create micro- and nanostructured surfaces, can be employed in the creation of ultrahydrophobic, i. e. extremely water deflecting, films through self-assembly of small molecules.
Several of the faculty’s research groups are active members of CeNIDE and serve on its board of directors. Members of the faculty also actively contribute to development of the NanoEnergie­TechnikZentrum (NETZ) and work on energy ­research. For example, one research group from the department of Theoretical Chemistry is working with colleagues from Bochum (RESOLV excellence cluster: Ruhr Explores Solvation) to investigate technologically significant electrochemical reactions such as the chlor-alkali process, using simulation methods for molecular dynamics. This is designed to contribute to the understanding of processes in which solvents such as water are important ­reactants but are locally in short supply due to increased reaction rates.
The Faculty of Chemistry’s research focus on “Empirical Research in Education” is primarily addressed by the department of Chemistry Education, the co-initiator of the successful proposal to ­establish a DFG Research Unit and Research Training Group (“Teaching and Learning of ­Science”, nwu-essen). Research topics in Chemistry Education relate to cumulative learning and the learning effectiveness of small group experimentation in chemistry classes, as well as to the ­importance of visualisation in chemistry learning. One special and also nationally important project in which three chemistry didactics researchers from Essen are taking part is the evaluation of national education standards in chemistry. Here, chemistry education research provides empirically validated competence structure models as a basis for performance measurement and is responsible for analysis and interpretation of the test results. In this process, the scientists collaborate closely with the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement (IQB) in Berlin. Colleagues from the department are also responsible for task development and quality management for the centralised upper secondary school leaving exams (“Zentralabitur”) in chemistry for North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Main Research Area of “Urban Systems” is primarily represented in the Faculty of Chemistry by Analytical Chemistry and the Biofilm Centre, whose staff serve on the board of directors of the Centre for Water and Environmental Research (ZWU) and are simultaneously directors of the Institute for Water Research (IWW) in Mülheim. The research interests here are primarily in substance and film-related water research, novel water technologies and tracing (harmful) substances in the environment. Scientists from the faculty deal with questions such as how far improved water quality in the river Ruhr can go in lifting the current swimming ban and how the abstraction of drinking water from the Ruhr can be further optimised (research project “Safe Ruhr”). They likewise address the importance of biofilms as habitats for hygienically relevant microorganisms or the extraction of valuable elements from brown coal ash by bioleaching. Colleagues at the Biofilm Centre work on optimising novel enzymes from extremophilic bacteria and microorganisms (known as “extremozymes”) for use in biotech­nological applications in the production of fine chemicals and process optimisation (e. g., cellulose degradation in renewable energies).
A comprehensive collaborative project in this field, coordinated and directed at the faculty, has recently been approved by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the ­innovations competition “e:Bio – systems biology”. Colleagues from Analytical Chemistry also ­attracted particular attention from the scientific community by developing a novel method to ­distinguish natural from artificial caffeine in caffeinated drinks based on the carbon isotopes in caffeine.