First students selected as PhD's in excellence programme

Talented master's students wrote their own proposals

8 October 2015

The Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry has honored two proposals for PhD research written by chemistry students Hans de Bruijn (Leiden University) and Kaj van Vliet (VU University Amsterdam). Both students, who recently received their master's degree with honours (cum laude), wrote their proposal as part of the special HRSMC master's programme for talented chemistry students. They will start their PhD research later this year, financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO.

The interuniversity HRSMC Excellence Master 'Sustainability: the Molecular Approach’ prepares talented chemistry students for a scientific career. Researchers of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the VU University Amsterdam (VU) and Leiden University (the HRSMC partners) composed a unique, demanding and interdisciplinary programme characterised by strong integration of theory, spectroscopy and synthesis. Only the best 10 percent of the chemistry students are eligible for the excellence programme.

PhD proposal

A crucial part is the preparation of a proposal for PhD research to be performed by the students themselves. The best proposals are rewarded with an actual PhD position, financed through the Graduate Programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Recently the HRSMC selected the first two students to be awarded such a PhD position: Hans de Bruijn (UL) and Kaj van Vliet (VU).

Both students presented their proposal for a broad panel of experts, in which Prof. Gerard van Koten, Prof. Rutger van Santen and Prof. Douwe Wiersma acted as advisory non-HRSMC members. According to the panel both proposals excelled not only in academic quality but also in their interdisciplinary and interuniversity approach, illustrative of both the Excellence Master and the HRSMC research school.

Hans de Bruin

Hans de Bruijn

Hans de Bruin obtained his master's degree cum laude at Leiden University (UL) on 22 September. He will perform his PhD research with Prof. Lies Bouwman (UL) and Prof. Matthias Bickelhaupt (VU). Dr Célia Fonseca Guerra (VU) will act as copromotor. Photo by Hanne Nijhuis.

Hans de Bruijn will start work on a new catalyst for the formation of C-N bonds, which has great synthetic relevance. Research has shown that hydroaminomethylation (HAM) or hydroamidomethylation (HAdM) over a rhodium catalyst results in a very sustainable process. However, rhodium is expensive and scarce and rhodium based catalytic systems are poor isomerisation catalysts.

De Bruijn now wants to replace rhodium with cobalt which is cheap and abundant. Furthermore, cobalt based compounds form effective isomerization catalysts. De Bruijn plans to study the use of phosphine ligands to modify the cobalt catalytic system and optimise it for the conversion of internal alkenes to linear products, which is industrially very interesting. The combination of theoretical chemistry and spectroscopic analysis is of paramount importance in his research, providing the much needed mechanistic insights with which optimal selectivity can be obtained.

The final goal is application of the catalyst for a more sustainable synthesis of ε-caprolactam (a precursor of nylon-6, an extensively used synthetic polymer).

Kaj van Vliet

Kaj van Vliet

Kaj van Vliet obtained his master's degree cum laude at VU University Amsterdam on 7 October. He will perform his PhD research with Prof. Bas de Bruin and Prof. Fred Brouwer (both UvA). Dr Célia Fonseca Guerra (VU) will act as copromotor. Photo by Hanne Nijhuis.

The focus of the research of Kaj van Vliet will be on visible light photoredox catalysis. Using light as a sustainable energy source, photoredox catalysis can contribute to novel, sustainable synthetic chemistry.

Van Vliet aims to design and test new organometallic complexes based on current photoactive compounds, to investigate organometallic complexes for applicability in visible light photoredox catalysis and to find new catalytic radical reactions and synthetic methods. He will use effective organometallic photoredox catalysts from literature and alter these by rational ligand design. In particular catalysts with the cheap and non-toxic iron and copper metals provide opportunities for further development.

A second objective of Van Vliet's research is to explore the so-called radical type dual catalytic reactions based on visible light photoredox catalysis. This is a quite new research area, developed by just a handful of research groups.
To obtain more insight in the photoredox catalytic reactions, Van Vliet will apply methods like steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopy. Adding to this he expects theoretical quantum chemical investigations to provide information about ligand effects, complex stability and catalytic pathways, leading to a better understanding of this type of catalysis.

About the HRSMC

The Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry (HRSMC) is a consortium of three Dutch Universities: the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the VU University Amsterdam (VU) and Leiden University (UL). HRSMC has been approved by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 1994. It provides an extensive training programme for PhD students in chemistry and offers a high quality research environment. The HRSMC is the only research school in the Netherlands that addresses societal challenges in areas such as sustainability, energy, and health from a molecular perspective.

Published by  Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry