Symposium 2021 ‘The Chemistry of succes’ In and Out of Control

The first speaker we would like to announce is:

  • Prof. dr. Wiktor Szymnaski - Wiktor Szymanski received his PhD degree from The Warsaw University of Technology, Poland, in 2008, working under the supervision of Prof. Ryszard Ostaszewski. He spent two years working on the use of biotransformations in organic chemistry with Prof. Ben L. Feringa and Prof. Dick B. Janssen at the University of Groningen. Since 2010 he has been working on the construction of photoactive protein- peptide- and DNA-bioconjugates and photopharmacology in the Feringa Labs. In 2014, he joined the Medical Imaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, where he was appointed in 2015 as tenure track assistant professor and in 2019 as associate professor (adjunct hoogleraar).


Success and failure in biocatalysis, photopharmacology, medical imaging and Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Wiktor Szymanski

Department of Radiology, Medical Imaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, 9713GZ Groningen, The Netherlands

In this lecture, I will describe my subjective take on the nature and meaning of successes and failures in the work of a scientist. I will start by sharing my thoughts on Kurt Vonnegut sharing his thoughts on the mediocre writing skills of William Shakespeare [1]. This will be followed by some considerations on how I got to where I am (professionally) and if it was a good or bad thing.

More to the point, I will discuss our work of the last 10 years on biocatalysis, photopharmacology (Figure A) and medical imaging. I will describe our efforts towards bridging light and medicine, focusing first on new light-operated tools [2] (molecular photoswitches [3,4,5] and photocages [6], Figure B). Next, I will highlight the synergies between medical imaging and therapy, offered by light, through photoresponsive optical [7] and magnetic resonance [8,9] imaging agents. The examples of light-controlled bioactive molecules presented will include small molecules [10] and proteins [11]. Finally, using those examples, I will highlight the structural aspects [12] of photopharmacology.

I will finish my talk with more thoughts on (and by) Kurt Vonnegut on the nature of good and bad things happening to us, and their relevance to the world of science.

Figure. The principle of photopharmacology (A) and its key molecular tools (B). Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007, C).



[1] c.f. Kurt Vonnegut on the Shape of Stories.
[2] Welleman, I. M. et al. (2020) Chem. Sci. 11, 11672-11691; 
[3] Lameijer, L. N. et al. (2020) Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 59, 21663-21670; 
[4] Hoorens, M. W. H. et al. (2019) Nature Comm. 10, 2390; 
[5] Medved, M. et al. (2021) Chem. Sci. 12, 4588-4898; 
[6] Sitkowska, K. et al. (2020) ChemComm 56, 5480-5483; 
[7] Reeßing, F. et al. (2020) ACS Omega 5, 22071-22080; 
[8] Reeßing, F. et al. (2019) Curr. Opin. Biotech. 58, 9-18; 
[9] Reeßing, F. et al. (2019) ChemComm 55, 10784-10787; 
[10] Kolarski, D. et al. (2021) Nature Comm. 21, 3164; 
[11] Mutter, N. et al. (2019) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 141, 14356-14363; 
[12] Arkhipova, V. et al. (2021) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 143, 1513–1520;


The second speaker that we announce:

  • Prof. dr. Anat Milo


This talk will focus on the key role outliers play in unlocking catalytic reaction mechanisms and, more generally, in scientific discovery. I will first touch upon my own frustration with  exceptions to reactivity and selectivity rules in my undergraduate studies, which eventually  led to the questions my group asks today. This foray will serve to introduce several case  studies where particular outliers, which were not comprehensible within the confines of a  certain mechanistic rationalization, uncovered new insights.



The third speaker that we announce:

  • Dr. Jörg Stierstorfer - Dr. Jörg Stierstorfer was born in Munich (Germany) in 1979. After finishing his German Abitur and one year civilian service, he started studying chemistry at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. He received his Diploma 2005 during which he investigated the “Chemistry of BTA”. Afterwards he worked on his PhD as a scientific co-worker in the research group of Prof. Dr. Thomas Klapötke. During this time he gained great expertise within the area of “Energetic Materials Research” in close collaboration with US and German military institutions. Jörg Stierstorfer received his PhD with honors in March 2009. His dissertation with the title “Advanced Energetic Materials Based on 5-Aminotetrazole – Synthesis, Characterization and Scale-Up” contains more than 150 new X-ray structures. After a short Postdoc stay at the University of Maryland (USA) he is working as scientist and lecturer holding an AOR position in the group of Prof. Klapötke. Since 2017 he also works on his habilitation thesis on energetic coordination chemistry based on transition metal complexes. Up to now, Dr. Stierstorfer has published more than 180 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. In 2007 and 2011, he was twice awarded the “Römer Prize” of the University of Munich for his excellent scientific achievements. His scientific interests cover the whole area of synthesis, characterization, scale-up as well as performance and safety testing of new energetic materials, especially primary and secondary explosives, nitrogen-rich propellants, high-oxidizers and pyrotechnical compositions. Since 2018, together with Professor Klapötke he is founder and CEO of the LMU start-up company EMTO GmbH.


Development of new Energetic Materials: In and Out of Control

More than 15 years in the development of new energetic materials without serious accidents led also to a huge number of compounds which got “out of control” and spontaneously exploded. Although the main research focus is always on compounds which can be used for future application, it is a lot of fun to work on derivatives only of academic interest. Examples of latter ones are the CN7- anion, C2N14 but also recently published oxalyl diazide (C2O2N6).


Energetic materials are divided into the groups of explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics. All of the currently used materials have drawbacks and should be improved and finally replaced by compounds with higher performance and lower toxicity. Part of this talk are new primary explosives (PE) based on energetic coordination compounds (ECCs). Commonly used primary explosives mostly contain polluting lead(II) salts. By varying the metal center (e.g. Fe, Cu, Ag, Zn, Mn), the ligands (mostly triazoles and tetrazoles) as well as the corresponding anions (azide, nitrate, perchlorate, picrate, etc.) the new ECCs can easily be tuned toward their resulting performance and sensitivities.


The fourth speaker that we announce:

  • Dr. Ben Schumann 


Chemical Precision Tools: fun to use and sheer necessity in glycobiology

Carbohydrates (glycans) are the most abundant biomass on earth and decorate the surface of every single living cell. Cell surface glycans influence major physiological processes, and changes are strongly associated with the formation of cancer.1 The process of adding glycans to a protein, called glycosylation, is one of the most common and complex ways that proteins can be modified after they are made.

Biomedical research has excelled at investigating the structure and function of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and proteins, all of which are made from a ‘template’ in a cell. In contrast, glycans are not produced from templates and are recalcitrant to investigation with classical methods of biochemistry.

About 20 years ago, chemists have started modifying single monosaccharides – the most basic unit of glycans – with chemical tags and subsequently track how these are incorporated into proteins by a process called bioorthogonal chemistry.2,3 While carrying great potential, this technique is not really specific to particular cells, carbohydrate molecules or biosynthetic enzymes. With the advent of recent technical developments in qualitative and quantitative biology, we would have the opportunity to study the role of glycosylation in health and disease in great detail if our chemical tools were more specific.4–6

Here, I will give an introduction into chemical precision tools, highlighting what makes them fun to use and how to employ them to tackle complex challenges in the fascinating world of glycobiology.


[1] Schjoldager, K. T., Narimatsu, Y., Joshi, H. J. & Clausen, H. Global view of human protein glycosylation pathways and functions. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 21, 729–749 (2020).

[2] Cioce, A., Malaker, S. A. & Schumann, B. Generating orthogonal glycosyltransferase and nucleotide sugar pairs as next-generation glycobiology tools. Curr. Opin. Chem. Biol. 60, 66–78 (2021).

[3] Sletten, E. M. & Bertozzi, C. R. Bioorthogonal chemistry: Fishing for selectivity in a sea of functionality. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 48, 6974–6998 (2009).

[4] Zol-Hanlon, M. I. & Schumann, B. Open questions in chemical glycobiology. Commun. Chem. 3, 1–5 (2020).

[5] Cioce, A. et al. Cell-specific Bioorthogonal Tagging of Glycoproteins in Co-culture. bioRxiv (2021).

[6] Debets, M. F. et al.  Metabolic precision labeling enables selective probing of O-linked N -acetylgalactosamine glycosylation . Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 117, 25293–25301 (2020).



Fifth speaker:.

  • Prof. dr. Evgeny Pidko 


Pushing the limits of homogeneous carbonyl reduction catalysis through understanding failures and mediocre performances 

Evgeny A. Pidko

Inorganic Systems Engineering group, Department of Chemical Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Van der Maasweg 9, 2629 HZ Delft, The Netherlands


Catalysis is a key ingredient of all strategies towards sustainable chemical technologies of the future. To minimize the adverse effects due to the use of non-renewable hydrocarbon and, at the same time, enable the direct conversion of renewables into useful chemical and materials in a sustainable and efficient manner, new catalytic technologies and approaches need to be conceived and materialized. Endeavours towards the sustainable use of feedstock should be accompanied by the efforts to make the catalyst utilization also more sustainable. The current paradigm in catalysis research is that most developments in catalysis largely rely on empirical findings gained through laborious experimental efforts. Researchers develop and screen sophisticated ligands and organometallic compounds, striving to achieve activity records, while paying little to no attention to “inactive” or mediocre catalysts. Chemical theory can often explain these activity patterns but usually fails to provide predictive tools to guide the rational design of new and improved catalysts. In this lecture, I will discuss the importance and challenges of understanding failed chemistry for the development of practical catalytic technologies. The discussion will be illustrated by selected examples from our recent studies on Ru- and Mn-based hydrogenation catalysts.[1]

Conventionally, the performance of homogeneous catalyst is interpreted in terms of the molecular structures and electronic properties of the organometallic compounds they originate from. In practice, most catalyst systems are highly complex, multicomponent, and intrinsically multifunctional. Their behaviour is only partially controlled by the chemistry of “catalyst molecule” (e.g., nature of the metal site, ligand structure and composition, intrinsic reactivity of the complex). It should rather be viewed as a complex function of a much wider range of parameters such as the activation procedure, the presence of promotors, solvent type, and the selected conditions (T, p, medium composition).[2] The position within such a complex condition space defines the preference of the catalytic species to live and drive the catalytic cycles of the desired chemical transformations or to die via one of the competing deactivation channels. An insight into the underlying mechanisms and their condition-dependencies helps to navigate this vast condition space and identify the operation mode, in which simultaneously the high catalytic activity and stability can be achieved to boost its efficiency and enable the most sustainable catalyst utilization for such emerging technologies as CO2 valorisation and selective conversions of biomass-derived substrates. 


[1] R. van Putten, E.A. Uslamin, M. Garbe, C. Liu, A. Gonzalez-de-Castro, M. Lutz, K. Junge, E.J.M. Hensen, M. Beller, L. Lefort, E.A. Pidko, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017,  129, 7639; R. van Putten, J. Benschop, V. J. de Munck, M. Weber, C. Müller, G. A. Filonenko, E.A. Pidko, ChemCatChem 2019, 11, 5232; W. Yang, I. Yu. Chernyshov, R. K. A. van Schendel, M. Weber, C. Müller, G. Filonenko, E. Pidko, Nat. Commun. 2021, 12, 12; C. Rebreyend, E. Pidko, G. Filonenko, ChemRxiv 2021, https://doi.org/10.33774/chemrxiv-2021-rsrqb.

[2] C. Liu, R. van Putten, P.O. Kulayev, G.A. Filonenko, E.A. Pidko, J. Catal. 2018, 363, 136; P.O. Kulyaev, E.A. Pidko, ChemCatChem 2020, 12, 795; A. Krieger, P. Kulyaev, F. Armstrong Hall, D. Sun, E.A. Pidko, J. Phys. Chem. C 2020, 124, 26990