Symposium 2023

'Molecules that matter'

Dr. Michael Lerch

Stratingh Institute for Chemistry

University of Groningen, 9747 AG Groningen, The Netherlands


Integrating Feedback into Functional Material

Integrating Feedback into Functional Materials

Automation—think industrialization, robotics, and digitalization—has been a key driving force for technological progress over the past centuries. The automation of processes usually entails creating machines that can function independently, which requires some form of internal feedback and independent decision making. While engineers have become very successful at designing and building such autonomous functional machines, many challenges remain, particularly for machines navigating small scales and inaccessible environments. In the medical realm, for example, miniature electronic robots are difficult to fabricate and employ and can easily damage soft tissues. Similarly, operation of robots in dark and remote places frequently fails due to communication and battery recharging failures.

In contrast, living organisms operate comfortably in most extreme spaces from the micro to macroscale. Taking inspiration from such organisms, one may find a plethora of principles useful for the design of next generation autonomous and functional materials useful for robotics. Such materials may incorporate the ability to make decisions, maintain internal integrity, communicate with and refuel from their environment without the need for supplied electricity and a remote-controlled electronic operating system. Instead, in such intelligent materials, the molecules matter! Similar to nature, the self-assembly and dynamic interaction at the molecular level enables feedback, decision-making, communication, and ultimately 'intelligence' to emerge at the macroscale.

In this masterclass, we will discuss the current state-of-the-art of intelligent materials and in particular discuss how one can design for and incorporate feedback into molecular functional materials to make them more autonomous. Along the way, we will encounter examples from the Lerch lab at the University of Groningen, discuss how as chemists we can make a difference in this field, and think about exciting challenges ahead.

Prof. Dr. Fabian Eisenreich

Eindhoven University of Technology


Sustainable Polymers in Circular Harmony

Fabian Eisenreich

Reducing the need for virgin plastic production and diverting plastic waste from landfills or natural ecosystems are major challenges for our society. Establishing a circular plastic economy offers a solution to these issues, relying on the development of innovative polymers and recycling technologies. In this context, chemical recycling of polymers plays a crucial role as it enables the breakdown of polymers into their monomers, which in turn can be used to create fresh polymers without compromising the material quality. Our research team has recently developed new types of polymers specifically designed for closed-loop recycling. The scaffold of these polymers contains imine moieties that can selectively be deconstructed under mild and energy-efficient conditions. In addition, we incorporated bio-based building blocks into the polymer architecture to further enhance the sustainability. With this strategy, we created not only compact polymers with tunable properties but also highly porous and ultra-lightweight polymer networks with thermal superinsulation characteristics. Overall, our research efforts aim to make significant contributions to the progress of circular polymers.

Dr. Adrian Apetri & Nynke Ligtenberg (Janssen Pharmaceuticals)


Biomolecules in Pharmaceutical Drug Development

Title: Biomolecules in pharmaceutical drug development
Janssen Pharmaceuticals
Adrian Apetri, Scientific Director, Biophysics and Process Analytics
Nynke Ligtenberg, Clinical Development Leader in Research & Development

Pharmaceutical Drug development is a very lengthy and complex endeavor that takes easily 10 to 15 years, has the highest failure rate compared to other industries and comes at an enormous cost. “Finding a needle in a haystack” is an appropriate comparison. As an introduction to the lecture on biomolecules, we will provide an overview of drug development, and its highly regulated environment. 

Over the last few decades, biomolecules have become a key component of modern medical care. While often packaged under the classical term of “biologics”, these active components used for prevention and/or medical intervention in different compositions, shapes and sizes and their thorough characterization are essential to ensure optimal functionality and to meet the quality criteria set by the regulatory agencies. State of the art technologies and in-depth knowledge of specific properties are paramount on the road to success. Additionally, fit for purpose approaches and avoidance of copy/paste endeavors are seminal criteria to consider especially at early development stages. Aggregation of protein drug products represents probably the most common headache in the biopharma industry. Light scattering, along with other modern biophysical techniques represents a versatile and indispensable tool used in the daily characterization of proteins. In the current presentation we will provide a glimpse of our work on bioanalytics at the stages of discovery and early development at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and highlight the dos and the don’ts that should be part of an analytical biochemist’s menu.

Dr. Filip Szczypiński

University of Liverpool


Automating 1H-NMR titrations for Quantification of Binding Affinity

My chemical career started with studies of guest-binding metal-organic cages and quantification of hydrogen bonding in information-encoded oligomers. I then pivoted towards computational prediction of organic reactivity in organic imine cages and macrocycles in my postdoctoral research. Currently, I am working at the intersection of computational and synthetic chemistry with robotic automation.


Association of two molecular species in solution lies at the core of supramolecular chemistry. The question of whether a resulting complex is more stable than its dissociated constituents is often answered by measuring and quoting the equilibrium association constant, Ka, or the corresponding change in the Gibbs free energy upon association. Arguably the most common method for the determination of the association constant is a supramolecular titration, typically performed either by NMR or UV spectroscopy.[1]

Supramolecular titrations are, in principle, an extremely simple experiment to design as they only require addition of one component (guest) into the other (host) while monitoring the change in a physical observable (e.g., chemical shift in the case of NMR). However, there as many ways to prepare and perform a titration as there are chemists and many of them will affect the measurement. Recently, there has been enormous progress in applying open science principles to data analysis and publication in supramolecular chemistry.[2] Given the repetitive nature of titration experiments, they lend themselves to automation, which can be more easily translated between different laboratories. Here, we will describe our efforts towards automating 1H NMR titrations using a liquid dispensing platform, a mobile robot chemist, and a simple benchtop NMR instrument.

Association constants and the corresponding binding energies are crucial not only to confirm synthetic realisation of complex systems, but also to design new functional molecules. Towards that goal, extensive work has been devoted to the development of models – with sufficient predictive power to enable supramolecular chemists to propose new research goals with relative ease. Such models often rely on empirical parameters – e.g., the hydrogen bond donor and acceptor parameters – derived from numerous NMR titration experiments.[3] We believe that our workflow will greatly simplify the acquisition of necessary data as well as improve reproducibility of the results.


[1] P. Thordarson, Chem. Soc. Rev., 2011, 40, 1305-1323.

[2] D. Brynn Hibbert and P. Thordarson. Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 12792-12805.

[3] M. H. Abraham and J. A. Platts, J. Org. Chem., 2001, 66, 3484–3491; C. A. Hunter, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2004, 43, 5310-5324.

Prof. Dr. Alexander Dömling

Palacky University Olomouc


Automation + Miniaturization = Acceleration

Automation + Miniaturization = Acceleration

Prof Alexander Dömling (ERA Chair of Innovative Chemistry Group at the Palacky University Olomouc) devotes his academic life to the design and discovery of bioactive compounds for difficult targets such as protein protein interactions, transcription factors, or RNA. He studied multi-component reactions with Ivar Ugi at the Technical University Munich (PhD), and with double Nobel laureate Barry Sharpless at The Scripps Research Institute (PD). At the University of Pittsburgh, he became associate and full professor and he introduced the “google-like” web-based technology ANCHOR.QUERY together with Carlos Camacho. ANCHOR.QUERY can screen very large (billions) of virtual compounds in just seconds for pharmacophores and based on key interacting fragments, e.g. large amino acid side chains of amino acids (in PPIs). Interestingly the resulting virtual hits can be instantaneously synthesized using convergent and fast multicomponent reaction chemistry in order to test the virtually generated hypothesis. From 2011 till 2022 he was Professor and chair of Drug Design at the University of Groningen. Another development is the technology platform Automated, miniaturized and accelerated drug discovery (AMADEUS) which was recently rewarded by an ERC Advanced grant. Here a fundamentally novel approach towards preclinical drug discovery and development is introduced by blending Instant Chemistry, nL dispensing, HT purification, HTS and machine learning. The indication areas Alexander Dömling is interested in are cancer immunology, infectious diseases and metabolic disorders. He has published more than 300 scientific articles, reviews and applied for >70 patents. Additionally, Alexander Dömling is a serial entrepreneur trying to make the expression “from bench to bedside” become true. - Interne linkalexander.domling@upol.cz  

In my talk I will give an overview of my recent work in organic and medicinal chemistry. My work largely focuses on isocyanide-based multicomponent reaction chemistry (IMCR). In numerous publications I have shown the design of novel scaffolds and applications of IMCR in medicinal chemistry. I am convinced, the face of organic and medicinal chemistry will dramatically change in the next future involving robotics, automation and AI driven syntheses and property optimizations. The mantra ‘Automation + Miniaturization = Acceleration’ is successfully applied in many research areas and technologies, but not in synthetic chemistry, which is largely believed to be not automatable. However, with the potential to accelerate discoveries while flattening costs, increase safety, streamline data generation, enhance reproducibility, and lower the environmental footprint, automation and miniaturization are two promising approaches to synthesis and are worthwhile to invest in. I will introduce the concept of AMADEUS (Automated, MiniAturizeD, and acceleratEd drUg diScovery), a technology platform, which is able to synthesize in a fully autonomous manner thousands of small molecules per day in nano- or picolitre volumes, based on hundreds of chemistries, efficiently screened and optimized for properties using artificial intelligence.

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