"The principle of all things is water; all comes from water, and to water all returns" - Thales of Miletus (624–548 BC)

Solvation science: A new research field

A unifying framework for understanding and predicting solvent processes


The majority of chemical reactions including many important industrial processes and virtually all biological activities take place within a liquid environment. Solvents, of which water is surely the most prominent example, are able to “solvate” molecules, thereby transferring these as “solutes” into the liquid state. Solvents are not only able to provide a liquid phase for simple chemical reagents and the much more complex proteins; they have the additional ability to wet extended surfaces such as lipid membranes or metal electrodes, thereby creating interfaces.


Solvation research is fundamental to advance key technologies

An in-depth understanding of solvation at a fundamental level of chemistry, physics and engineering is essential to enable major advances in key technologies in order to reduce pollution, increase energy efficiency or prevent corrosion to name but a few challenges to our modern day society. In life sciences, water has been dubbed the “matrix of life” due to its role as the ubiquitous solvent, thus understanding solvation is crucial to unravelling biological function in a comprehensive way.


Understanding and Exploiting Solvation in Chemical Processes

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Solvents are not just bystanders

Up until now there has been a broad consensus in the literature which considered solvents to be inert media for different molecular processes. It is this concept on which most phenomenological understanding relies, such as “linear solvation free energy relations” or “continuum solvation” approaches. Transcending this traditional view, solvents are now increasingly recognized as playing an active role in their own right, ranging from solvent-mediated to solvent-controlled and even to solvent-driven processes. 

The most recent advances in experiment and theory allow one to probe, describe, and even influence the structure, dynamics, and kinetics of complex solvation phenomena at the molecular level. Therefore, the time has come to develop a universal concept of solvation which can not only describe solvents in general, but is additionally able to predict properties of new solvent systems. 


Connecting Solvation Dynamics with Biomolecular Function

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We describe and predict the solvents' role at the molecular level

The Cluster of Excellence RESOLV develops, in a bottom-to-top approach, microscopic descriptive models able to quantitatively predict the properties of solvent-mediated and solvent-driven processes. Whereas a scientific discipline traditionally develops its own models for solvation a microscopic approach guarantees direct transferability between the different scientific fields. In this new approach, solvent molecules will be considered as functional units which are employed as active species in solvent-mediated and solvent-controlled processes rather than being just inert and passive spectators.

This research encompasses investigations of the complex interplay between solutes - ranging from simple ions through peptides up to electrode surfaces - and solvents - ranging from water and supercritical carbon dioxide through to ionic liquids - at the molecular level. This requires the culmination of a broad armory of state-of-the-art spectroscopic, synthetic, engineering, and theoretical techniques, all of which are available at the RUB or have been developed and advanced further here within the last few years. The expertise present at the RUB is intensified greatly by cooperations with the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim, the Max Planck Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology “UMSICHT” in Oberhausen.


Ion Solvation and Charge Transfer at Interfaces

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Linking fundamental to applied research

Any progress made in fundamental research is conveyed to applied research and ultimately to industrial processes. To enforce this important transfer of scientific knowledge two transfer centers have been launched: The Center for Electrochemical Sciences (CES) and the Applied Competence Center THz (ACC THz). This ensures the timely implementation of the knowledge gained from fundamental research into technologically relevant processes and leads to products borne out of translational cooperations with industry.