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At the national chemistry student 'PAC symposium' held 2 March at Utrecht University, UvA master student Tom Keijer has won the first prize in the 'Young KNCV' poster competition. With his poster Keijer presented his research project at the Homogeneous, Supramolecular and Bio-inspired catalysis group (HOMKAT) of the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS).

Image: HIMS.

The PAC-symposium is the Dutch national chemistry student symposium organized annually by 4 student associations: ACD (University of Amsterdam), CDL (Leiden University), U.S.S. Proton (Utrecht University) and VCSVU (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). Returning element at the symposium is the competition for the Young KNCV poster prize, issued by the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV). Next to winning the first prize of € 500,- awarded by the jury, Keijer also came in first according to the public vote, yielding him another € 100,-. UvA chemistry students Yorrick Boeije and Celine Nieuwland shared the third prize.

Molecular cages for solar fuels synthesis

Keijer carries out his research under the supervision of postdoctoral researcher Dr Simon Mathew and group leader Prof. Joost Reek. He investigates cage-like molecular compounds for use in systems mimicking photosynthesis, e.g. for the production of 'solar fuels' (synthetic chemical fuels produced by means of solar energy conversion).

Tom Keijer won both the jury prize and the public vote. Image: HIMS

Natural light harvesting photosystems such as the leaves of plants make efficient use of large assemblies of light-harvesting proteins to transfer energy into a reactive center, where multi-electron water splitting reactions take place. In an attempt to understand the fundamental principles upon which these natural systems are built, artificial systems with similar properties are synthesized and studied.

Tom Keijer participates in a project that builds on the idea that supramolecular cages,  if adequately designed, may act as reactive centers for the solar fuels synthesis. It is known that the confined space of such cages can enhance catalytic properties. Already molecular cages have been functionalized both with catalysts internally as with light-absorbing chromophores (light-harvesting molecular 'antennas') externally.

Electron transfer

However, for such cages to really function, photo-excited electrons generated by the chromophores have to be directed into the cage to drive the catalytic conversions. No proof has yet been provided on the directionality of electron transfer of photo-excited chromophores when attached to a supramolecular cage. Keijer now investigates a new type of cage-antenna system using several spectroscopic techniques (e.g. UV-Vis, fluorescence, NMR and CV) to answer the following research question: can energy be directed from the exterior to the interior of a supramolecular cage?