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"Water as near-universal solvent for materials synthesis and processing" by Miriam Unterlass (Mon, 27 Feb 2023)

The Seminars and Training Committee kindly invites you to the following ICMAB Periodical Lecture on materials synthesis:

20 February 2023

Water as near-universal solvent for materials synthesis and processing


by Miriam Unterlass, University of Konstanz (Germany) and CeMM Research Centre for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Austria)

Monday, 27 February 2023
12 PM
ICMAB - Sala d'Actes Carles Miravitlles and ONLINE (Register here to attend by Zoom)


Our modern lifestyle is unthinkable without chemical products. Fertilizers maximize crop efficiency, needed to feed the planet, and modern drugs are crucial for human health. Materials, ranging from polymers to construction materials, semiconductors, and advanced ceramics are indispensable for modern technologies. At the same time, making all these compounds poses enormous challenges to our planet’s environment and climate, as it relies heavily on fossil fuels. These are dwindling resources, their mining comes with dramatic consequences for the environment, and their combustion is the major source of global warming through humanmade greenhouse gas emissions. In the production of chemical compounds, fossil fuels are used as (i) starting materials, (ii) as solvent for synthesis and processing, and (iii) as energy source. The combustible use as energy source is currently addressed by, e.g., process optimization for reduced energy demand and employing renewable energy.

Our research addresses the non-combustible uses of fossil fuels as solvents. Our central hypothesis is that water, H2O, can be tuned to be a near-universal solvent for the synthesis and processing of chemical compounds. This hypothesis is backed by geological evidence across all classes of chemical compounds forming in the Earth’s crust in aqueous environments. In this seminar, I will discuss the physicochemical features of liquid H2O as a potent medium for chemical synthesis. Furthermore, I will discuss examples of materials synthesis and processing across a wide range of molecular architectures (small molecules, polymers, networks), order (amorphous, crystalline, semicrystalline, mesocrystalline), types of bonding (covalent, metallic, ionic), and chemical nature (organic, inorganic, hybrid).1-5

Overall, I hope to be able to show that water-based chemical synthesis and processing feature important advantages over conventional synthesis – including sustainability aspects, simplicity of the set-ups, and versatility – that result in immense potential for materials chemistry.

1. O. Gazil, J. Bernardi, A. Lassus, N. Virgilio and M. M. Unterlass*: „Urethane functions can reduce metal salts under hydrothermal conditions: Synthesis of noble metal nanoparticles on flexible sponges applied in semiautomated organic reduction“, J. Mater. Chem. A 2023, accpeted.
2. H. M. Moura, H. Peterlik, and M. M. Unterlass*: “Green Hydrothermal Synthesis Yields Perylenebisimide-SiO2 Hybrid Materials with Solution-Like Fluorescence and Photoredox Activity“, J. Mater. Chem. A 2022, 10, 12817-12831.
3. M. Lahnsteiner, M. Caldera, H. M. Moura, D. A. Cerrón-Infantes, J. Roeser, T. Konegger, A. Thomas, J. Menche, and M. M. Unterlass*: "Hydrothermal polymerization of porous aromatic polyimide networks and machine learning-assisted computational morphology evolution interpretation", J. Mater. Chem. A 2021, 9, 19754- 19769.
4. F. Amaya-García, M. Caldera, A. Koren, S. Kubicek, J. Menche, and M. M. Unterlass*: "Green Hydrothermal Synthesis of Fluorescent 2,3-Diarylquinoxalines and Large-Scale Computational Comparison to Existing Alternatives", ChemSusChem 2021, 14(8), 1853-1863; doi: 10.1002/cssc.202100433
5. M. J. Taublaender, F. Glöcklhofer, M. Marchetti-Deschmann, and M. M. Unterlass*: "Green and rapid hydrothermal crystallization and synthesis of fully conjugated aromatic compounds", Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2018, 57(38), 12270-12274; doi: 10.1002/anie.201801277


Miriam M. Unterlass studied chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering in Würzburg, Southampton and Lyon. Between 2009 and 2011, she worked on her PhD thesis at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids  and Interfaces, followed by a postdoc at ESPCI in Paris. In December 2012, she established her research group “Advanced Organic Materials” at the Institute of Materials Chemistry of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien). In September 2018, Miriam obtained her habilitation veniadocendiin materials chemistry, and became tenured assistant professor in 2019. In 2018 she joined CeMM as an Adjunct Principal Investigator, and in June 2021, she became a full professor of solid state chemistry at the University of Konstanz (Germany).

The research interests of Miriam Unterlass are centered on compounds that are rich in aromatic and heterocyclic moieties. These materials show interesting optoelectronic properties and can, e.g., be used as dyes. A major focus lies on the discovery of new compounds and the development of novel, environmentally-friendly, non- toxic, and highly efficient synthetic techniques, especially via hydrothermal synthesis. Miriam is committed to research transfer: She founded her first company, UGP materials in 2017, and develops graphic design materials and courses for scientific topics.

Hosted by David Amabilino, ICMAB-CSIC

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