The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded Vidi grants to Moniek Tromp and Annemieke Petrignani of the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS). They both will receive a maximum of 800,000 euros to develop an innovative research theme and form their own research group.
The NWO Vidi grants enable established postdoc researchers to conduct research for a period of five years. In the current grant allocation round a total of 509 researchers submitted a proposal. Only 87 of them were successful. At the UvA and AMC-UvA 18 researchers were honored with a Vidi grant.
Moniek Tromp has recently been appointed at HIMS as associate professor for the Research Priority Area Sustainable Chemistry. The research in this area is centered around a fundamental understanding of the chemical processes enabling the conversion of raw materials into useful products and energy. Catalysis plays a crucial role here.
In her Vidi-research, Moniek Tromp wants to obtain a detailed 'movie' of a working homogeneous catalyst (a system in which both catalyst and reactants are in the liquid phase). For this she will develop and apply different X-ray absorption and emission spectroscopy methods. The use of X-ray light with different energies will enable her to take a detailed look at all the individual components of a catalyst system, such as the active metal, the molecular surroundings and the interaction with reactants (substrates).
If all goes well she will be able, for the first time, to monitor in great detail the changing structural and electronic properties of all the different parts of a working homogeneous catalyst. A particular challenge will be to separately characterise all short-lived reactive intermediates. Tromp expects to be able to put these active species in the spotlight by combining custom-designed micro-reactors with smart, modulated excitation and fast data acquisition methodologies.
Tromp expects to acquire unprecedented insight in how the different parts of the catalyst system cooperate to yield the required performance. This knowledge will be essential to enable the development of new sustainable catalytic processes, which use more abundant and cheaper metals than most current processes and which will result in less by-products and less energy consumption.
Annemieke Petrignani is an experimental astrophysicist working at Leiden Observatory and conducting experiments at the FELIX laser facility of Radboud University Nijmegen and the Molecular Photonics group of HIMS. For the course of the Vidi project her research group will be embedded in the Molecular Photonics group.
At the heart of Annemieke's research are interstellar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) and their infrared emission behavior. Studying these PAH's is very relevant since they play an important role in the formation of stars and planets. They might even be linked to the origin of life on earth.
The current knowledge of interstellar PAH's is based on near infrared (NIR) emissions of many galaxies, combined with quantum chemical modelling. But because of the lack of data obtained in laboratory experiments, the determination of the precise molecular structure (especially for larger PAH molecules) has until now been rather speculative.
Petrignani aims at changing this. She wants to provide a firm base for the determination of the extraterrestrial forms and formats of PAH's by measuring the infrared characteristics of astronomically sized PAHs (approximately 50-100 carbon atoms) in the Nijmegen and Amsterdam laboratories.
In particular she presents new approaches to identify the so-called low-lying vibrational modes of the molecules and characterise their anharmonic behaviour. The high-resolution laser facility in Amsterdam offers a novel approach to study the NIR vibrational bands of PAH neutrals in detail. The free electron lasers in Nijmegen provide a unique opportunity to measure large gas-phase PAH ions in both the near (NIR) and far (FIR) parts of the infrared spectrum.
The results can validate quantum chemical predictions, build an improved PAH database, and allow for interpretation of infrared spectra from space instruments such as HIFI. This will help to shape future missions searching for planet and star formation.