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Engineers Week Virtual Seminar: The Path to Complex Matter: Chemistry ? Chemistry !


240 Egan

February 24, 2016 10:00 am to 11:00 am
February 24, 2016 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Speaker: Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn, Institut de Science et d'Ingénierie Supramoléculaires (ISIS), Université de Strasbourg, France

The evolution of the universe has generated more and more complex matter through self-organization, from particles up to living and thinking matter. Animate as well as inanimate matter, living organisms as well as materials, are formed of molecules and of the organized entities resulting from the interaction of molecules with each other. Chemistry provides the bridge between the molecules of inanimate matter and the highly complex molecular architectures and systems which make up living organisms. Synthetic chemistry has developed a very powerful set of methods for constructing ever more complex molecules. Supramolecular chemistry seeks to control the formation of molecular assembly by means of the interactions between the partners. The designed generation of organized architectures requires the handling of information at the molecular level in a sort of molecular programming, thus also linking chemistry with information science. Research and engineering at the molecular and supramolecular levels provide steps towards complex matter. The field of chemistry is the universe of all possible entities and transformations of matter, of which those actually realized in nature represent just one world among all the worlds that await to be created!


Jean-Marie Lehn was born in Rosheim, France in 1939. After receiving his bachelor's degree  from the University of Strasbourg in 1960, he earned his Ph.D. in 1963 under Guy Ourisson. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Robert Burns Woodward at Harvard, where he participated in the total synthesis of vitamin B12. On his return to Strasbourg he began to work in areas at the interface between organic and physical chemistry, later taking an interest in biological processes as well.

In 1968, his research led to the synthesis of cage-like molecules containing a cavity into which another chemical species of appropriate size and shape may be included, to form a “cryptate”, like a key fits into a lock. Thus began his work on the chemical basis of "molecular recognition" (i.e. the way in which a receptor molecule recognizes and selectively binds a substrate), which also plays a fundamental role in biological processes. For these studies Lehn received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987 with D.J. Cram and C.J. Pedersen.

From 1970, Lehn has been Professor of Chemistry at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg and in 1979 he was elected to the chair of Chemistry of Molecular Interactions at the Collège de France in Paris. He retired from the Collège de France in 2010 and is presently Professor Emeritus at the University of Strasbourg and Professor at the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study (USIAS), where he holds the Chair of Chemistry of Complex Systems. He directs the Laboratory of Supramolecular Chemistry at the ISIS (Institut de Science et d'Ingénierie Supramoléculaires) of the University of Strasbourg.

Over the years his work led to the definition of a new field of chemistry, which he has named "supramolecular chemistry" as it deals with the complex entities formed by the association of two or more chemical species held together by intermolecular forces, whereas molecular chemistry studies the features of the entities constructed from atoms linked by covalent bonds. His research broadened from molecular recognition towards supramolecular catalysis and transport processes. It also extended to the elaboration of functional devices, for supramolecular photonics, electronics and ionics.

Thereafter, the main line of development concerned the chemistry of “self-organization” based on the design of "programmed" systems that undergo spontaneous assembly of suitable components into well-defined functional supramolecular architectures, directed by the supramolecular processing of molecular information. More recently, importing into molecular chemistry, the dynamic features characteristic of supramolecular chemistry, through the introduction of reversible covalent bonds, allowed the implementation of selection in self-organization processes. It led to the definition and development of “constitutional dynamic chemistry”, whose molecular or supramolecular entities are able to undergo reorganization in response to external stimuli. It points to the emergence of an “adaptive chemistry”, that involves dynamic networks linking chemical entities, thus opening towards the chemistry of complex systems.

On another line, a substance has been discovered that is able to markedly increase oxygen delivery to hypoxic tissues in vivo and to act on important biological signalling factors. It presents much therapeutic relevance in the numerous diseases (cancer, cardiovascular, etc…) characterized by hypoxia and dependent on specific signalling pathways.

Author of more than 950 scientific publications, Lehn is a member of many academies and institutions and has received numerous international honours and awards.