Making connections, and not just in the laboratory: chemistry professor Gerd-Volker Röschenthaler wins award
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July 19, 2017

It was in the 1980s, a time when the Iron Curtain still divided Europe into East and West, that Gerd-Volker Röschenthaler took his first lecture tour to then still-Communist Poland. This trip resulted in a long-term cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań – the chemistry professor trained young Polish scientists for decades. His commitment has now been recognized with a rare accolade: he was awarded the Medal of Merit by the Polish university.

“When you practice science, relationships between people can be fostered and bridges built. I have always done that with the greatest of pleasure and my fullest conviction”, says Röschenthaler who accepted the medal at a festive ceremony in Poznań. He not only promotes better understanding between people in Poland but also in Israel. The scientist has been a member of the Board of Governors of the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) in Haifa, Bremen’s partner city, for more than a decade. He had already visited the country’s universities at the end of the 1970s for the first time.

He is also active in a third country: China. Gerd-Volker Röschenthaler is a guest professor at Nanjing University, one of the most renowned universities in the country. His most recent visit was in April in order to discuss a joint project in organic fluorine chemistry. “We plan to open a joint laboratory in Maanshan, a neighboring city of Nanjing. The cooperation is going extremely well”, says Röschenthaler.

He has been working with the element fluorine – the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the elements, as he puts it – since the beginning of his scientific career. It is a small atom with a large ego that gives many substances very special properties. Fluorochemical compounds can be found in prescription drugs, pesticides, refrigerants, as liquid crystals in displays or in batteries, among other things. “Fluorine and fluorochemical compounds are as widespread as they are relevant to our everyday lives”, believes Röschenthaler.

After 31 years as a professor at the University of Bremen, Röschenthaler moved to Jacobs University in 2009. He has found that the international atmosphere with students from more than 100 nations and the opportunity of working closely with colleagues from other disciplines is something truly special. “We meet each other often and discuss ideas – that is very motivating for research.”.

Together with other colleagues, Röschenthaler succeeded in finding a substance that switches off lithium batteries at a particular voltage. This so-called “shutdown additive” is a breakthrough for battery safety. The development of new fluorinated lithium battery components also gives him satisfaction, he says. How application-oriented his research is, is proven by the number of patents held: 35 in total.

His working group at Jacobs University has become a center for applied fluoroorganic chemistry in Germany. Although the demand for organic fluorine-based substances remains strong in the pharmaceutical industry, agricultural chemistry and medicine, and is even still growing, this branch of chemistry is little pursued at universities in Germany. The situation is different in Japan and China. “We simply cannot lose the expertise gained in Germany”, believes Röschenthaler, as do many of his colleagues in the chemical industry.

More information:

Questions will be answered by:
Prof. Dr. Gerd-Volker Röschenthaler | Professor of Chemistry
g.roeschenthaler [at] | Tel.: +49 421 200- 3138

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