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Grants for synthetic life, Parkinson's disease and plastic solar cells

07 February 2013
In this type of containers, chemical evolution takes place
In this type of containers, chemical evolution takes place

This week, scientists from the Faculty of Science and Engineering (formerly known as the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences) were awarded three research Grants. They are systems chemist Sijbren Otto (below), celbiologists Arjan Kortholt and Peter van Haastert (next page) and Jan Anton Koster, esearch scientist at the department of Physics of Organic Semiconductors (third page).

Dutch research funding agency NWO announced that University of Groningen professor of synthetic chemistry Sijbren Otto has been awarded a VICI grant of EUR 1.5 million. His project is on Darwinian evolution of molecules

All living creatures are subject to Darwinian evolution. This has made chemist Sijbren Otto wonder: ‘Can we make chemical molecules evolve in a similar way?’ His research group aims to answer this question by developing molecules that can replicate themselves under circumstances in which mutations and selection occur.

Chemistry has thus far focused mainly on the development of stable systems – now it's time to start looking into the more unstable ones. Biological systems develop through a system of evolution and decay, synthesis and degradation, a cycle of life and death. Sijbren Otto aims to study whether these biological principles can also be applied to synthetic chemistry. Self-assembling and self-replicating macromolecules play an important role here. Artificial chemical systems made up of such molecules may also be able to undergo Darwinian evolution. This may be a first step towards synthetic life, Otto hopes.


Michael J Fox Foundation awards $1.300.000 grant for Parkinson's disease project

Information will be added shortly


Shell awards Indian PhD student to University of Groningen project

Jan Anton Koster has been awarded a PhD student by NWO, FOM and Shell, for a project on new plastic photovoltaic cells. The grant was awarded through a public-private partnership between Shell, research funding agency NWO and FOM, the foundation for fundamental research on matter. The partnership was initiated by Shell. The company is setting up a large research facility in Bangalore, India and needs qualified local staff. This is the reason behind Shell wanting to fund 75 PhD projects by Indian students at Dutch universities.

The first cohort of students were selected in the field of computational science and energy. Shell selected 45 PhD candidates from a large number of applicants and asked Dutch universities to submit research proposals. Out of 139 proposals, 22 projects were selected. One of these was from the University of Groningen, written by Jan Anton Koster, research scientist at the department of Physics of Organic Semiconductors in the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials .

Koster was awarded an Indian PhD student. ‘All students are guaranteed a job by Shell. Once they have gained their PhD, they are welcome to work at the Bangalore facility.’ The project Koster submitted is on plastic solar cells. ‘The efficiency of such a cell is to an important degree dependent on the dielectric constant of the material it is made of. This constant determines how fast a free electron will recombine with its opposite part, known as a hole’, Koster explains. As a result of this recombination free electrons are lost, which diminishes the production of power by the solar cells. ‘A high dielectric constant means the amount of recombination is low. But plastic solar cells are made of two different materials: a polymer and a buckyball-based molecule. Each has its own dielectric constant.’ The new project will use computer simulations to investigate which combination of dielectric constants will yield the most efficient photovoltaic cells.

Koster is part of the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials at the University of Groningen and participates in the FOM Focus group Next Generation organic photovoltaics .

Last modified:18 February 2019 11.30 a.m.

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