“Coffee breaks are great opportunities to discuss new projects, so we’ll have plenty of them”, Prof. Havenith’s promise broke the ice and relaxed the audience at the start of last week´s RESOLV annual retreat, in Velen. True, with the right mix of lectures and breaks, the familiar setting of annual retreats allows for deep scientific exchanges. It was during a break of last year’s meeting, for example, that the seed idea of a Graduate School in "Confinement-Controlled Chemistry" was first conceived - almost one year later, the project was successfully funded by the DFG.
This year’s retreat may hold even bigger chances for the future of solvation science. Because it offered to the almost 130 participants the opportunity to expand their views and collaborations with as much as eleven captivating lectures from solvation scientists outside the Cluster. Besides, the wonderful Velen castle was the perfect setting for the RESOLV scientists to discuss strategy and build the “Teamgeist” in preparation for the biggest goal of the year - to successfully defend the new cluster proposal in front of the DFG commission, therefore getting the necessary funds to move solvation science to the next level of complexity.
The meeting spanned through 3 days comprising plenty of variety. Day one covered mainly themes related to water interfaces. It kicked-off with the presentation of a new member of RESOLV, Poul Petersen, who will move from Cornell University, US, to RUB next August. Petersen offered a comprehensive lecture, addressing solvation shell spectroscopy, self-assembled monolayers, and recalling his recent findings on the chiral structure of water around DNA. Then it was the turn of Marialore Sulpizi from the University of Mainz, Germany, who uses ab initio simulation to understand the structure and the vibrational spectroscopy of water at the solid-liquid interfaces. Hendrick Bluhm, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US, uses Ambient Pressure X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy to investigate aqueous and liquid-vapour interfaces, as well as aqueous carbonate systems. Wilson Smith, from Delft University, Netherlands, concluded the day explaining how electrochemical potentials could be stretched to achieve effective CO2 reduction – useful against climate change -, stressing the importance of local solvation and pH effects near copper nano-electrodes.
Solvation science for applications and innovation
Day two opened with talks about the importance of solvation for technological applications. Ana Vila Verde from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, is interested in fluorination in proteins – a promising strategy for new materials and drugs. Vila Verde uses simulation tools and models to address and predict how protein fluorination alters hydrophobicity and water dynamics at the water-amino acid interface. Timothy Noel from University of Technology Eindhoven, Netherlands, explores the paths that could lead to the sustainable production of drugs. He uses the simplest renewable energy source, visible light, to catalyse redox reactions inside cheap microfluidic reactors - homemade with 3D-printed parts! Finally, Kramer Campen from the Fritz-Haber Institute in Berlin, wants to experimentally characterize the mechanism underlying the production of hydrogen – an alternative, clean energy resource. To this end, he uses femtosecond time resolution to detect the reaction at the Au and Pt electrodes.
Day two was also about innovation. Experts from industry and academia took centre stage with their views on how to transfer fundamental research into new technologies, and specifically solvation science into applications.
Ulrike Endesfelder, from the MPI of Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany, opened day three. She gave multiple technical insights into super resolution microscopy applied to bacterial research. Then it was the turn of another RESOLV member to be, Rasmus Linser, from LMU Munich, who will join TU Dortmund in 2019. Linser gave a panoramic overview about the use of solid-state and solution NMR spectroscopy to access protein structure and dynamics, respectively, as well as solvation features, such as water accessibility. Finally, Stephanie Kath-Schorr, from the University of Bonn, focused on new ways to label RNA with fluorophores and spin labels.
RESOLV graduate students from the GSS school had also an important role during the retreat. They had the opportunity to present their work with short lectures that were distributed all along the conference, and during an evening poster session. Two students won the best poster award: Tim Schleif for his poster on the environment effect on heavy atom-tunneling in dimethylsemibullvalene; Philip Punt for his work on new strategies to create artificial metallo-enzymes.
The RESOLV retreat was promptly appreciated by the guests: Wilson Smith labelled it on twitter “A super interesting conference”, while Ulrike Endesfelder tweeted that she “Learned and saw many new things and met new people - intense and great retreat!”.
As for the RESOLV team, Martina Havenith concluded the meeting with a positive pitch: “I saw that we have the strength and the collaborative team spirit to defend our project and to return here next year and for many years to come”. Sure enough, discussions during breaks will accompany both RESOLV defense preparation and future meetings of solvation scientists. “We need coffee breaks to interact a lot”, concluded Havenith.