The Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy has identified four research priorities in its Institutional Strategy 2021 - 2025.
Participating working groups
The investigation and targeted exploitation of chemical processes in space on the microscale (micro-space) represents one of the more recent thematic focus areas of research at the Faculty. It can be assigned to both the strategic research fields of "Intelligent Methods and Materials" and "Sustainable Principles for Life and Health". Within the framework of the "Leipziger Weg", Chemistry in Micro-Space links in particular the "Emerging Fields" of microfluidics and flow chemistry on the way to establishing interdisciplinary research networks. The focus area is currently specifically developed further in the DFG Research Group 2177 “Integrated Chemical Microlaboratories (InCheM)” and the ESF junior research group "Heterogeneously-catalyzed synthesis processes in flow-through systems".
Miniaturization and system integration have fundamentally changed laboratory technology. While biochemical assays-on-chip and organ-on-chip devices are well advanced in the life sciences, similar progress in chemistry is still in its devlopment. Research into chemical processes on the microscale opens up completely new insights and application opportunities for modern chemistry. These are based on so-called "enabling technologies" such as integrated chemical microlaboratories, which make it possible to follow chemical processes in the smallest dimensions in terms of space, time, location and amount of substance. This not only enables the decoding and understanding of chemical reactions, but also the development of portable diagnostic laboratories up to sustainable chemical micromachines, which are characterized by the optimal use of resources and the minimal generation of waste.
The DFG research group "Integrated Chemical Microlaboratories" (In-CheM, FOR 2177), which is centered at the Faculty, aims to create a novel technology by combining and integrating chemical microreactors with customized microanalytics to provide new insights into chemical processes. FOR 2177 builds on local expertise, especially at the Institutes of Analytical, Organic and Physical Chemistry. Important local cooperation partners are the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the Leibniz Institute for Surface Engineering (IOM). Numerous other close collaborations also exist nationally, especially in the Berlin science area, and with international partner institutes.
Chemistry in micro-space also plays a central role in the ESF junior research group "Heterogeneously catalyzed synthesis processes in continuous-flow systems", which is concerned with research and training of young researchers in the subject areas of stereoselective synthesis, heterogeneous catalysis and spectroscopic reaction studies. An important aspect is the establishment of cooperations with the industrial companies located in the Central German chemistry triangle and also the chemical region in the Freiberg-Dresden-Schwarzheide area.
In the next few years, the DFG Collaborative Research Centre "Chemistry in Microspace" will be applied for within this research forum. In this context, chemistry in microspace refers to the implementation of chemical syntheses, in particular e.g. organocatalysis and biocatalysis (see Research Forum 3 "Sustainable Multifunctional Catalysis"). A particular focus is on the observation and control of the selectivity of chemical reactions by exploiting effects in microscale space in line with the FOR 2177 research group. A further aim is the synthesis and characterization of nano- or microstructured materials for applications as "sustained release" systems in drug therapy. This can be achieved through the dimension of the systems, their internal structure and through chemical modifications. The expertise of the faculty lies in the targeted synthesis and modification of nano- and microstructured carrier systems, their comprehensive characterization and the analysis of release processes. With regard to the planned SFB initiative, particularly close cooperation with the Faculties of Life Sciences and Medicine and the involvement of non-university research institutions (e.g. UFZ, IOM, BBZ) will be sought. The SFB initiative is also specifically supported by infrastructure measures from the European Structural Fund EFRE ("Improvement of equipment for the strategic research field 'Intelligent Methods and Materials' to strengthen application-oriented research") by Leipzig University.
This SFB initiative already benefits from the full proposal for funding of the DFG Research Training Group Hydrogen Isotopes 1,2,3H, which will be reviewed in February 2021. 1,2,3H is centered at the Faculty and combines the expertise of the Institutes of Analytical, Inorganic, Organic, Physical, Theoretical Chemistry and Chemical Technology, the Faculty of Physics and Earth Sciences, the Helmholtz Centre Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR, Leipzig Branch) and the IOM in the fields of laser spectroscopy, materials science, lab-on-a-chip technology, organic synthesis and radiochemistry.
An important focus is also on the diverse research in chemistry didactics. Within the framework of Curricular Innovation Research, which, among others, processes current chemical research for pupils according to the model of Didactic Reconstruction, the cooperation with the chemical research fields will be expanded in particular within the framework of the above-mentioned initiatives.
Participating working groups
The research area Materials and Energy has an interdisciplinary focus and is concerned with the development of functional materials with customized properties for use in connection with the energy transition. The range of materials extends from porous materials such as zeolites, glasses, carbon-based structures or Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs, porous coordination polymers) with adjustable pore widths, to compounds containing boron, to precisely defined (semiconductor) layers, from complex material systems with thermoelectric properties to defined solid-state compounds that can reversibly absorb and release hydrogen. Materials-oriented research at the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy thus covers a broad spectrum of materials for the generation, storage, conversion and more efficient use of regenerative energies. These include materials for photovoltaics, which are obtained from molecular precursors, deposited as thin layers or serve as model systems. Thermoelectrics or thermochemical storage materials are used for the reversible conversion of heat into electrical energy and are just as interesting for the use of waste heat as for cooling technologies. Materials for hydrogen storage and innovative energy-saving luminescent materials are further current focal points with high potential for increasing efficiency. Extensive experience and sustainable preliminary work in the field of these so-called energy materials is available within the Faculty, but also in cooperation with the Faculty of Physics and Geosciences. Overall, the strong methodological approach in the field of materials research at the Faculty should be emphasized, which results in a universally applicable character of the findings and developments. This approach is not directed at specific classes of substances, but is rather applicable to a wide variety of materials with diverse functions. With their application perspectives, they reach beyond the field of energy and are also important for climate protection. With the research forum "Materials and Energy", the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy thus makes an important contribution to one of the most pressing challenges of our future society.
Research at the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy on materials and energy is currently carried out in several DFG-funded projects, e.g. within the priority programme SPP2080 "Catalysts and Reactors under Dynamic Operating Conditions for Energy Storage and Conversion", the CRC Transregio 102 "Polymers under Constrained Conditions: Constrained and Controlled Molecular Order and Mobility" (jointly with Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg), the research group FOR 2857 "Copper Iodide as Multifunctional Semiconductor" and a junior research group in the field of application-oriented public research (EFRE InfraPro) "In situ Investigations of Energy-Related Materials". Further BMBF projects are already being carried out or are in the application phase.
The development, synthesis and optimization of energy materials is an attractive challenge, which thematically fits directly into the research profile areas "Complex Matter" in the strategic research field "Intelligent Methods and Materials" of Leipzig University. With a view to the complex, physico-chemical material properties, modern analytical and spectroscopic methods are of particular importance. In particular, the methods of X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy and various spectroscopic methods are established at a high level in research at the Faculty and form a focus that is characteristic of the region. Several working groups also use large-scale research facilities such as synchrotron radiation sources and research reactors (neutron sources). In situ- and in operando- investigations provide decisive impulses for understanding the synthesis, function and ageing of energy materials. These are therefore to be specifically further developed and established at the Faculty in the future.
As an Emerging Field in the sense of the Leipzig Way, which is directly related to the strategic research field "Intelligent Methods and Materials", the focus is on the targeted, rational synthesis of new materials. To this end, the expertise already available at the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy in the methodological field will be expanded in the following focal areas and developed into collaborative research initiatives:
Elucidation of reaction pathways in solids with in situ methods
In contrast to the synthesis of molecules (in both organic and inorganic chemistry), little is known about reaction mechanisms in solid-state chemistry. With in situ studies, the elementary steps of such reaction mechanisms can be investigated, which then makes process control and rational synthesis planning possible. The rapid improvement of many radiation sources (synchrotron, free-electron lasers, neutrons, but also laboratory sources) has significantly improved the time resolution, availability and informative value of such in situ investigations. This makes it possible to use these techniques in application contexts, such as rechargeable batteries, gas and heat storage materials or thermoelectrics. At the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy, several research groups are already working on in situ methods that can be used for the investigation and rational design of energy-relevant materials.
Computer-aided material design
In this field, quantum chemical methods to cover the range from molecules to surfaces and solids, complemented by machine learning or deep learning, will enable the design of novel functional materials. Computer-assisted ab initio methods, which do not require experimental parameters, enable a rapid overview of the stability of hypothetical new solids, which can serve as a preselection for synthesis candidates. The prediction of crystal structure and properties (electronic structure) thus allows a deeper understanding and controlled synthesis of functional materials. Here, networking with the research profile area "Mathematical and Computational Sciences" is aimed at.
Functional surfaces by deposition of molecular gas phase ions
Surface layers produced by the deposition of molecular ions are to be fundamentally characterized in cooperation with the IOM. Applications in the fields of energy storage and solid-phase electrolytes are investigated. The foundation of a research platform with the IOM is planned, which will serve in particular for cooperation, synergy in excellence projects in basic research and for the acquisition of third-party funding from industry for new materials in the field of energy storage and conversion.
Based on extensive preliminary work on boron-based compounds in the Institutes of Physical, Theoretical and Inorganic Chemistry, a research group anchored in the Faculty is to be initiated with colleagues from Wuppertal, Würzburg and Dresden, dealing with basic research relevant to hydrogen storage and catalysis.
The research focus area is to be strengthened by a tenure-track junior professorship in the WISNA programme with the denomination "Functional Nanomaterials". This professorship is to cover the field of functional nanoscale materials (e.g. nanoparticles, low-dimensional materials, hybrid materials or their computer-aided investigation). For synthesis, characterization and application, e.g. micro- and mesoscopic flow systems or liquid jet technologies are to be used. In addition, the Faculty considers establishing an honorary professorship for an external expert in the field of "Digitalization in Catalysis and Materials Science" in the near future. This professorship will expand this and the research forum described below, in particular to include aspects of the generation, storage and use of research data.
Participating working groups
The Faculty Research Forum Sustainable Multifunctional Catalysis deals with conceptually new catalytic transformations that are used for the efficient production of bulk and fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and crop protection agents as well as polymers. Inorganic and organic compounds, materials as well as biological systems are used as catalysts. An important focus is on the use of sustainable raw materials and rsources. With this goal, the Faculty makes a significant contribution to a sustainable society, environmental protection and the establishment of a carbon-neutral circular economy. Several working groups at the Faculty, including at the Institutes of Analytical, Bioanalytical, Organic, Physical Chemistry and Chemical Technology, have many years of experience in the development, preparation, characterization and use of a wide range of catalysts. This includes molecular catalysts, solid catalysts and biocatalysts as a broad material and methodological basis for the development and expansion of this research forum into interdisciplinary collaborative research projects.
ESF junior research groups in the field of catalysis have also been and are being funded. The current research project "Heterogeneously catalyzed synthesis processes in continuous-flow systems", funded by the Sächsische Aufbaubank, intends to develop new processes for the stereoselective synthesis of fine chemicals that are economically and ecologically superior to currently used processes. To this end, chiral catalysts are attached to solid supports and then used in continuously operated flow-through systems, and the reactions are also monitored spectroscopically. Through the permanent and precisely controllable flow of the reaction mixture over the immobilized catalyst, the processes can be controlled, the reaction time shortened, the reaction yield increased and the lifetime of the catalysts extended. The long-term goal of these investigations is to make a significant contribution to sustainable, modern and resource-saving fine chemical production.
Cooperation with non-university research institutions in the Leipzig area (UFZ, IOM, TROPOS, DBFZ) is of central importance for the work in this field, especially with regard to the applications. In addition, several projects are carried out, in part with industrial partners or in application-oriented collaborative research projects.
Catalysis research can be conducted at the Faculty in the entire scope of its subdisciplines. This means that catalytic functionalities from the fields of molecular and enzymatic catalysis and catalysis on solid surfaces can be combined and understood and utilized in innovative contexts. The unique selling point can be assigned to the research focus "multicatalysis", in which concepts of cooperative, synergistic or modular catalysis lead to novel applications in sustainable chemistry. The comprehensive characterization of catalysts, especially solid catalysts by modern (surface) spectroscopic techniques, supports the research field and provides insights into the fundamental understanding of catalytic conversions. An interesting combination of molecular and solid-state reactive substances results from the deposition of clusters and ions on surfaces, making, for instance, cationic particles increasingly accessible for catalysis. Clusters as such serve as an important link between experiment and theory as they represent precisely defined model systems, on the basis of which, for example, the particle size can be specifically tuned as a parameter for investigating reactive properties. The combination with theoretical investigations enables, on the one hand, the validation of theoretical methods through highly accurate experimental studies and, on the other hand, offers the possibility of making predictions from ab initio methods. This can then enable the preselection of potentially interesting substance combinations based on a deep and detailed understanding of the reaction mechanisms.
Other focal points that play an important role at the Faculty in the field of catalysis and that are to be further developed through cooperations in the future include:
- Catalysis in continuous-flow systems (ESF junior research group "Heterogeneously catalyzed synthesis processes in continuous-flow systems"; closely related to the DFG Collaborative Research Centre "Chemistry in Microspace" initiative, see Research Forum "Chemistry in Micro-Space").
- Biomimetic catalysis, whereby a fully comprehensive approach is pursued ranging from the elucidation of catalytic principles in nature to the understanding and application of biomimetic, low-molecular weight catalysts (enzyme mimicking).
- Enantioselective organocatalysis using chiral Brønsted acids, N-heterocyclic carbenes and chiral amines for the synthesis of pharmaceutically relevant and biologically active agents with defined three-dimensional structure.
- Enzymatic catalysis for the synthesis of fine chemicals
- Photocatalysis, e.g., in synthetic organic chemistry (assembly controlled photocatalysis) or in heterogeneous photocatalysis (water splitting).
Networking of the research forum "Sustainable Multifunctional Catalysis" with the other Research Forums of the Faculty, for example in the area of "Chemistry in Micro-Spaces", in which catalysis plays an essential role as an enabling technology, is already evident and is to be further pursued and intensified. Conversely, potentially catalytically active materials can be investigated and used from the "Materials and Energy" Research Forum. The honorary professorship "Digitalization in Catalysis and Materials Science" already mentioned above would strengthen the connection between the research fields and significantly expand it in the area of research data management.
The activities and expertise of the Faculty in this promising field will be brought together and further developed into a coherent research field in the sense of an emerging field on the Leipziger Weg in the next few years, so that the application of a research group or a collaborative research centre is possible in the medium term.
Participating working groups
In the research forum Chemical Theranostics, new methods and chemical tools in synthesis and analytics are designed for drug development and diagnostics. Many of these developments serve the narrower focus of theranostics, the early diagnosis of molecular causes of diseases for targeted, in particular also personalized, therapy, an improved interlinking of diagnosis and therapy, often also referred to as “precision medicine”. The research forum is highly relevant to the university's strategic research fields of "Sustainable Principles for Life and Health" and within it to the profile areas of "Modern Diseases" and "Molecular and Cellular Communication".
One focus of the Faculty's biomolecular research activities is on drug design. This topic is already reflected in numerous research foci of groups in the Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy and has high potential for the development of collaborative projects. Leipzig University is home to essential centers or collaborative research projects in which pharmaceutically relevant proteins are investigated at the molecular and cellular or organismal level, e.g., CRC 1423 ("Structural Dynamics of GPCR Activation and Signal Transduction"; GPCR: G protein-coupled receptors) or Research Unit 2149 ("Elucidation of Adhesion GPCR Signalling"). More than 1/3 of all drugs on the market bind to GPCRs and these receptors are therefore of extraordinary pharmacological relevance. However, the more medically oriented CRC 1052 "Mechanisms of Obesity" also includes several projects with the aim of developing active molecular substances. The development of agonists and antagonists to influence the signalling effect of these receptors is an important component of the collaborative projects. Synergies and opportunities for participation in larger research collaborations also result from the restructuring of the Pharmacy Department and the establishment of an Institute for Drug Development in the Faculty of Medicine. The Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy contributes to these developments in particular through its synthesis expertise in organic, inorganic and biological chemistry. In addition, with the establishment of the Biotechnological-Biomedical Center in 2002, two bioanalytically oriented professorships were filled at the Faculty, which also deal with drug development in significant parts of their research activities.
Besides spin chemistry and magnetic resonance, molecules and chemical tools are also the basis for many other diagnostic procedures. Here, the Faculty's expertise in the synthesis of small organic molecules, inorganic molecular compounds, as well as peptides and proteins is of particular importance. One example is the possibility of coupling diagnostically applicable probes with molecules for cell-specific or disease-specific targeting, thus bringing them to the site of interest (tumour, inflammation, etc.). The Faculty's (bio)analytical expertise in antibody-based methods or (bio)chemical microanalysis (see Research Forum “Chemistry in Micro-Space”) is also particularly relevant to this focus area. A current example is the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infections via antibody-based methods.
The central development goal of the research forum is to strengthen the methodological capacities and the expansion of joint projects with the aim of acquiring further visibility through interdisciplinary collaborative projects and strengthening the areas of active substances, diagnostics, theranostics and precision medicine. For the acquisition of a larger collaborative project in the field of drug development, a further focus on well defined and innovative topics is necessary. This can be achieved by "biomimetic drug design" which is understood to include strategies of nature-inspired drug discovery practicable in an academic setting, but also innovative and effective ways of developing pharmacologically active molecules. On the one hand, this includes the use of natural substances, peptides, proteins (antibodies, "biologicals") and natural, functionally relevant signalling molecules or substrates as starting substances for further development into lead structures as high-affinity binders or active substances with modified activity (e.g. agonists/antagonists/inverse agonists of receptors or modulators of protein-protein interactions).
These largely established approaches to classical drug development are now combined with innovative methods in design and synthesis. Nature-inspired methods should also be mentioned here, for example the use of enzymes for regio- and stereospecific synthesis or in vitro evolution processes for the generation of substance libraries of proteins and peptides. These procedures, which occur in a similar way in nature, can also be used in computer-aided approaches, i.e. in virtual screening procedures for the fitting of molecules into binding pockets (docking) or the generation of virtual substance libraries including conformational analysis.
Another goal in the field of drug research is the synthesis and characterization of nano- or microstructured materials (nanoparticles, adapted moulded bodies, films, tissues, etc.) for applications as sustained-release systems in drug therapy. The main advantages over other forms and types of application are, for example, the achievement of uniform drug levels over a longer period of time through sustained/controlled release. This can be achieved through the dimensions of the systems, their internal structure and chemical modifications. The expertise of the Faculty lies in the targeted synthesis and modification of nano- and microstructured carrier systems, their comprehensive characterization and the analysis of release processes. Existing contacts with the medical faculty are to be further expanded with regard to the selection and implementation of active substances. In this focus area, close interlinking with the Research Forum Materials and Energy also contributes to additional mutual inspiration and support.
With this focus, the area of drug research of the Research Forum Chemical Theranostics is intended to further strengthen the above mentioned ongoing collaborative research centers CRC 1423 and CRC 1052 and to enable a new collaborative project on biomimetic drug development. In addition, this area is of central importance for the University initiative "Intelligent Therapeutic Strategies for Integrated Precision Medicine" for the excellence strategy of the federal and state governments.
A second focus of biomolecular research within the Faculty is in the area of diagnostics. Here, the development of analytical chemical and physical tools for diagnostic applications in medicine, for example in spin chemistry and innovative magnetic resonance methods, is of importance. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can not only generate high-resolution three-dimensional images of internal organs, but also spatially resolved non-invasive chemical analysis is made possible. Hyperpolarization methods such as DNP (dynamic nuclear polarization), ONP (optical nuclear polarization) and CIDNP (chemically induced dynamic nuclear polarization) are one way to increase sensitivity and selectivity. Further development of these methods is made possible by the Faculty's expertise in the synthesis of molecular spin systems, which are used for signal amplification in magnetic resonance. Furthermore, innovative measurement techniques are developed. Together with working groups from biochemistry, medicine and physics, a network has been established to advance these various new approaches. Two current initiatives are based on this network: "Spin for Living Matter" (S4L), with the aim of establishing a large-scale research center in the Leipzig area, and an CRC application on the topic of "Hyperpolarization in Molecular Systems".