Nobel Laureate Opened State-of-the-Art Laboratory

29 January

Professor Richard R Schrock of MIT, co-recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, officially opened the Chemical Synthesis Laboratory, of Federation and inaugural VESKI Fellow Professor Andrew Holmes at the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute on Friday 2 February.

A guest of the University as its Distinguished Bio21 Lecturer in Chemistry, Professor Schrock also delivered two public lectures during his visit. The Nobel Laureate, was joined by Minister for Innovation the Hon John Brumby, and University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis spoke at the ceremony which recognised the commitment of several sponsors including the ARC, The University of Melbourne, veski and CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies.

The chemical synthesis laboratory was custom-designed as part of the package that attracted Professor Holmes to return to Melbourne from the UK in 2004.

“The University and State Government’s contributions are not only providing the premises for these state-of-the-art laboratories, but also the vision and initiative in establishing a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary research facility in the hub of the Parkville precinct” he said.

A showcase for best practice in modern laboratory design in Australia, the laboratory is setting the gold standard for universities and secondary schools, incorporating the latest ideas and designs from laboratories in Europe and North America.

"These are the best laboratory facilities that I have ever worked in” commented Professor Holmes, pointing out that the careful integration of open bench space adjacent to excellent fume hoods improves the productivity of researchers by a factor of two or three.

Chemical synthesis sits centrally at the interface with many disciplines including biology, biochemistry, genetics, drug discovery, physics, material science and nanotechnology. Providing cutting edge platform technology and facilities such as these allow ‘molecule makers’ like Holmes to manufacture materials by organic chemical synthesis.

Professor Holmes’ research interests are in making natural and non-natural materials to solve problems at the interface of chemistry with biology and materials science.

One of the most important research areas to emerge from the Holmes group at the Bio21 Institute has been the development of cheap plastic solar cells. Using their knowledge of materials science and the way in which Nature harnesses solar energy in photosynthesis Holmes and his colleagues hope to develop cheap flexible solar cells that will provide an environmentally friendly way of generating power.

“It is predicted that the world’s demand for energy will have doubled by 2050,” said Holmes, “and there is very clear evidence that increased emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that will be produced by burning fossil fuels to meet this demand will choke the planet.”

He added, “What is needed is a cheap solar cell that can be printed on plastic like our banknotes. Here in Victoria we have the science base and the technical skills to develop this technology.”

The Victorian Government is committed to sustainable energy research and development through its Energy Technology Innovation Strategy (ETIS). Professor Schrock received his nobel prize for work in metathesis chemistry which revolutionised the way chemists assemble complex organic molecules.

He gave two public lectures during his visit:

  1. “Multiple Metal-Carbon Bonds for Catalytic Metathesis Reactions” at the Bio21 Institute Auditorium (30 Flemington Road Parkville) held on Thursday 1st February at 4 pm.
  2. “Catalytic Reduction of Dinitrogen at a Single N Molybdenum Center” at theCuming Lecture Theatre, School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, held on Friday 2nd February at 4 pm.

veski would like to acknowledge that this article is courtesy of The Bio21 Institute.

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