Supramolecular Chemistry

Supramolecular Chemistry
Group leader
Interim Provost, VP and Head of Academic Operations
Specific themes and goals

Our research team at Constructor University studies the fundamental driving forces that bring molecules together. We also develop new applications in supramolecular chemistry, generally focusing on water as the most important solvent. In many cases, our research builds on international collaborations. 

For more than a decade, we have been at the forefront of supramolecular chemistry. In 2011, we proposed high-energy water as an important driving force in supramolecular chemistry. In 2013, we designed systems that allowed us to observe chemical reactions inside molecular containers in the gas phase. In 2015, we discovered the special properties of superchaotropic ions and described the chaotropic effect as a complementary driving force to the hydrophobic effect. Furthermore, we have designed fluorescent probes and a new line of enzyme (in 2007) and membrane (in 2014) assays, so-called supramolecular tandem assays. 

Our work on fluorescent sensors; macrocycles, particularly cucurbiturils; high-affinity binders (including most recently boron clusters); and complexation-induced pKa shifts has found applications in pharmaceutical drug discovery and drug delivery. Our contribution is exemplified by the recent discovery of a new class of membrane carrier, with Javier Montenegro at Santiago de Compostela University in Spain. 

Regarding young researcher support, the group has graduated 25 PhD students and hosted 20 postdoctoral fellows as well as two habilitation candidates, in addition to 10 visiting scientists/ professors (sabbaticals). Twenty of the overall 45 supervised PhD students and postdocs have entered academic careers in universities and research institutes around the world. Most of them are now in permanent professor positions, and many of them have returned to their home countries, ranging from Spain, Lebanon, China, Germany, India, Iran, and Jordan

Highlights and impact
  • Jury Member for the academics (Die Zeit) prize “Young Researcher of the Year”.
  • Honorary Faculty Member at Indian Institute of Technology IIT Guwahati, India.
  • Appointment as Concurrent Professor of Hubei Province at Wuhan Textile Industry.
  • Re-elected Executive Committee Member of the European Photochemistry Association.
  • Co-organizer of the “Superchaotropic properties of nano-ions” two-day session at the European Colloid and Interface Society Conference 2019, Leuven, Belgium.
  • The research work has been highlighted in major scientific media, including Chemical & Engineering News, Angewandte Chemie, and Nachrichten für Chemie und Technik. 
  • Selection of two articles in Angewandte Chemie as “Hot Paper”, another one as frontispiece.
Group composition & projects/funding

Currently, the group consists of two postdoctoral researchers, six PhD students, and typically two to three undergraduate research assistants. During 2019-2022, several co-workers have been awarded with fellowships (Humboldt, China Scholarship Council). The research has been largely funded through three projects of the German Science Foundation (DFG).

Selected publications
  • Barba-Bon, G. Salluce, I. Lostalé-Seijo, K. I. Assaf, A. Hennig, J. Montenegro, W. M. Nau, “Boron Clusters as Broadband Membrane Carriers”, Nature 2022, 603, 637–642, 022-04413-w 
  • B. Xiao, S. He, M. Sun, J. Zhou, Z. Wang, Y. Li, S. Liu, W. M. Nau, S. Chang, “Dynamic Interconversions of Single Molecules Probed by Recognition Tunneling at Cucurbit[7]uril-Functionalized Supramolecular Junctions”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2022, 61, e202203830, 
  • M. Nilam, S. Karmacharya, W. M. Nau, A. Hennig, “Proton Gradient-Driven Sensitivity Enhancement of Liposome-Encapsulated Supramolecular Chemosensors”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2022, 61, e202207950, 
  • F. Tehrani, K. I. Assaf, R. Hein, T. C. Nugent, W. M. Nau “Supramolecular Catalysis of a Catalysis-Resistant Diels-Alder Reaction: Almost Theoretical Acceleration of Cyclopentadiene Dimerization inside Cucurbit[7]uril”, ACS Catal. 2022, 12, 2261–2269, https://doi. org/10.1021/acscatal.1c05659 
  • S. Bhattacharya, A. Barba-Bon, T. A. Zewdie, A. B. Müller, T. Nisar, A. Chmielnicka, I. A. Rutkowska, C. J. Schürmann, V. Wagner, N. Kuhnert, P. J. Kulesza, W. M. Nau, U. Kortz, „Discrete, Cationic Palladium(II)-Oxo Clusters via f-Metal Ion Incorporation and their Macrocyclic Host-Guest Interactions with Sulfonatocalixarenes“, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2022, 61, e202203114, anie.202203114