The Functional Molecular Systems research project of Radboud University Nijmegen, Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Groningen has been awarded a grant of EUR 26.9 million. The project is one of six projects that will receive a Gravitation Grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and NWO announced this today.
The Research Centre for Functional Molecular Systems is the result of an alliance of the three standard-bearers of Dutch organic chemistry research: Bert Meijer (Eindhoven and Nijmegen), Roeland Nolte (Nijmegen) and Ben Feringa (Groningen). Key roles in setting up the project were played by three leading institutes at the three universities. They are the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS) in Eindhoven, the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) in Nijmegen and the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry in Groningen.
The ambition is to acquire complete control over molecular self-assembly, for example by making nanomotors and dynamic biomaterials for tissue repair in the body, and control over efficient tiered catalyst processes as they occur in the cells.
‘As the ultimate objective, you should envisage the construction of man-made molecular systems and materials that can perform autonomous functions. You should also think here of materials that can reproduce or repair themselves or independently effect movements,' says Groningen chemist Prof. Ben Feringa. ‘That means mastering self-assembly and the dynamic behaviour of molecules in the way that it occurs in a living cell, and subsequently exploiting this in man-made systems. If we are successful, this will open up a whole new chemical world.’
Feringa is one of the most successful scientists in the Netherlands and has an impressive CV: Spinoza winner, Academic professor and Vice President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. ‘I am very proud that this cooperation has been honoured, as competition within the Gravitation programme is enormous. The future chemistry that these three groups are going to develop will be very exciting chemistry.’
Jan van Hest, professor of organic chemistry at Radboud University, also spoke of a big challenge. ‘A very important new step for chemistry,’ he said. ‘This will lead to a greater understanding of what life is and to chemistry that matches what occurs in the human body itself. Think about how the body repairs cells and ensures that the right chemicals are at the right place at the right time. We want to thoroughly understand the complexity of these dynamic concepts. In five to ten years, this will lead to progress that will be important to society.’
The main applicant for the project is Bert Meijer, professor of organic chemistry in Eindhoven. ‘The support of NWO offers us every opportunity to strengthen our leading position in the world in the relatively new field of the self-assembly of molecular systems comprising a number of components. Together we will develop and shape the field and explore the many functional possibilities that it offers. Our international position will attract a lot of new talent.’
The Gravitation programme is the successor to the ‘Dieptestrategie onderzoeksscholen’ (Research schools’ depth strategy), for which the last grants were awarded in 1998. With the Gravitation programme, OCW and NWO are giving a new impulse to cooperation at the highest scientific level. Six research teams of leading scientists at various Dutch universities will receive funds to set up excellent scientific research programmes in the coming ten years. Minister Bussemaker of OCW has made EUR 167 million available for this.
‘With this research we are stimulating research that is among the world’s best or which has the potential to be,’ said Bussemaker. ‘Free and independent research is very important to force breakthroughs in major social issues.’
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