ERC Consolidator Grant for molecular machines

Prof. Dr. Henry Dube, Lehrstuhl für Organische Chemie I (Bild: LMU/Christoph Olensinski)

Prof. Dr. Henry Dube, Chair of Organic Chemistry I, has received an ERC Consolidator Grant. The Consolidator Grants of the European Research Council (ERC) support excellent researchers who want to conduct groundbreaking research in Europe as “Principal Investigator”. Only about 13% of all applications lead to success.

Switches for molecular machines

Prof. Dr. Henry Dube is an unusual engineer: he builds molecular machines. The challenge he faces is that if you shrink technology down to molecular size, you are left with the question of how to process information at the molecular level and operate the technology. An approach from photochemistry has proven valuable. If you shine light on a molecule it moves from state A to state B, thereby working as a ‘photoswitch’. Prof. Dube is working to build photoswitches which can be moved to not just two but a number of different positions, giving them a higher information density. This would allow molecular machines to work much more precisely and let them be used for much more complex tasks. For example, materials could be given different properties or robotics systems could execute very precise gripping movements.

How exactly does one molecule change from one state to another? In the systems investigated by Prof. Dube, minute movements take place within the molecule, for example molecule parts rotate against each other. He aims to learn how to control these movements. This would then allow him to move tiny units in a targeted manner, letting him construct molecular machines which would in turn be able to construct specific new molecules, like a little nanofactory. Materials could then be manufactured mechanically for the first time, a process which currently requires catalytic reactions. The scope of possible applications is enormous, ranging from new polymers to energy carriers. The European Research Council is providing nearly two million euros for the next five years.

Prof. Dr. Henry Dube studied chemistry at Philipps-Universität Marburg and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich. In 2008, he completed his doctoral degree at ETH Zürich in Switzerland on the topic of synthetic modules for hemoproteins. After spending three and a half years conducting research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, USA, he returned to LMU, where he became the head of an Emmy-Noether research group. In 2019, he was offered a professorship at Cologne University, but decided to accept the W3 professorship for organic chemistry at FAU instead.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Henry Dube