The atoms in molecules are held together by solid (covalent) bonds, and there is a significant amount of human knowledge about this. To assemble molecules, however, nature often uses weaker reversible (non-covalent) bonds. This dynamic reversibility creates a world of possibilities - think of healing, growth and adaptation. However, the fundamental knowledge in this field, supramolecular chemistry, is still relatively limited, certainly in comparison with the exceptionally complex molecular machinery of life.
Bert Meijer therefore wants to boost supramolecular chemistry by enabling non-covalent structures in different steps and with different components. For inspiration, he is looking not only at nature but also at the substantial knowledge there is of (covalent) organic chemistry, with which he expects to see many similarities. The knowledge acquired should ultimately become an elementary part of polymer chemistry. He wants to replace the words self-assembly and self-organization with non-covalent synthesis, in other words: controlled assembly of complex matter.
To elaborate this, the professor of Organic Chemistry wants to develop a supramolecular hydrogel that consists of various components whereby the gel attracts the specific signal proteins required to control biochemical processes. The goal is to develop the ideal substrate to cultivate biological tissue (tissue engineering).
The third part of the research focuses on supramolecular materials that lead to 'spin filtering'. Spin is a property of electrons that resembles ‘rotation’. The filtering of spin, by applying a thin layer of certain supramolecular materials, appears to make the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen much more efficient. Meijer will investigate how new materials can optimally support this essential step in making 'solar fuels'.
Meijer will receive 2.5 million euros from the ERC for his research. It is the second time he gets an Advanced Grant from ERC, which is exceptional.