Bielefeld Chemist receives top EU science award

Dr Achim Müller, Professor at Bielefeld University's Faculty of Chemistry, has received the European Union’s most prestigious science award. The European Research Council has honoured him with an Advanced Grant under the 2012 funding scheme.

Müller is one of the world’s leading scientists in nanochemistry and the ERC will support his scientific work with €1.2 million for three years.

“We are proud that this highly prestigious prize has been awarded for the first time to a Bielefeld scientist and congratulate Professor Müller on this fabulous result,” says Professor Dr-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, Rektor of Bielefeld University.

Professor Müller will use the grant for his research relating especially to spherical porous nanocapsules into which substances – with the possibility to protect them – can be inserted through the 20 pores. Müller and his team have discovered what materials close the pores and under what conditions they can be opened and closed stepwise. Now they intend to understand the chemical processes in nanostructured spaces. The results are expected to be of significance for certain research subjects in chemistry, physics, biology and materials science. The Bielefeld group is the only one in the world able to equip the nanocapsule cavities with different tailor-made hydrophobic and hydrophilic functions (water-liking and -disliking), which is probably the most important aspect of their research.

Achim Müller’s group is known to be able to synthesize a variety of nanomolecules with unique properties. Their clusters are enormously large compared to normal inorganic molecules. Usually, such molecules have a diameter of several tenths of a nanometre whereas the “Bielefeld giant molecules” are several nanometres in size. What is also important: they allow chemical reactions – also catalytic ones – which were hitherto not possible.

According to the scientific community, Achim Müller’s work has changed inorganic chemistry. The 1995 publication of the “Bielefeld giant wheel”, the largest artificial molecule at that time, caused a worldwide sensation. Only two years later, Müller's team obtained the pure compound and the correct formula. The molecule consists of 154 metal atoms, which are connected by oxygen atoms. The magazine “New Scientist” headlined: “Big wheel rolls back the molecular frontier”. In 1998, the team surprised the scientific community with the creation of a “nano-football”; so named because its shape is reminiscent of the pentagonal and hexagonal sections of the classical leather football. The spherical molecule has more than 700 atoms and 20 well-defined pores. Later the group succeeded even further by creating molecular clusters with 176, 248 and 368 molybdenum atoms while the worldwide known “nano-hedgehog” consisting of 368 molybdenum atoms is considered to be the largest inorganic cluster with a well-defined structure. The Bielefeld chemists also succeeded in synthesizing a hybrid-type molecule comprising a smaller metal-oxide based molecule encapsulated in a nano-football and are now able to deliberately assemble metal atoms into nanostructures, which is regarded as an enormous step forward.

Achim Müller became Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the Faculty of Chemistry in Bielefeld in 1977 and has published more than 900 papers in 100 different scientific journals including several in “Nature” and in “Science” – proof of his interdisciplinary-type of research. He has edited 14 books related to different science areas, which also reflects the interdisciplinary nature of his work. During his career, Müller has received the Alfred-Stock-Gedächtnispreis (Alfred Stock Memorial Prize) of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (German Chemical Society), the Gay-Lussac Humboldt Prize of the French Ministry of Research, the very prestigious Centenary Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry (London) and numerous other awards. He is recipient of five honorary doctorates and an honorary professorship.

The European Research Council Advanced Grant is only given to outstanding scientists who have established themselves as leading figures in their field and who have a track record of out-standing scientific achievements. Calls for proposals to compete for Advanced Grant funding have been issued every year since 2008. Funding by the European Research Council (ERC), particularly Advanced Grants, is much sought after. Several thousand researchers compete for ERC funding each year. In its Seventh Framework Programme, the European Union has allo-cated the ERC a total budget of €7.5 billion for a period of five years.

Professor Dr Dr h.c. mult. Achim Müller, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Chemistry / Inorganic Chemistry
Telephone: +49 521 106-6153, Fax: +49 521 106-6003
Mobile: +49 172 5220891

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