03-Sep-2021 - Max-Planck-Institut für Kolloid- und Grenzflächenforschung

First programmable photocatalyst developed

With smart materials toward more sustainable chemistry

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have developed a sustainable and "smart photocatalyst". The special feature: as a so-called smart material, it can distinguish between the colors of light (blue, red and green) and, in response, enables a specific chemical reaction programmed into it. "Our smart photocatalyst functions as a traffic guide who opens one specific pathway in response to light of specific color," says Dr. Yevheniia Markushyna, first author of the paper.

Photocatalysts are special materials that use the energy from sunlight or LED light to enable a desired reaction. Often, this results in not just one product, but a variety. Chemists call this "poor selectivity" because separation of the desired product from the mixture consumes time and resources.

Quite different with the new method developed at the Max Planck Institute, which enables the research team for instance to synthesize sulfonamides in a targeted manner. Sulfonamides are organosulfur compounds that are used, among other things, as antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. The researchers have created a photocatalytically active carbon nitride material that produces with high selectivity sulfonamides. With the help of the sustainable "smart photocatalyst," one product is created selectively from three possible from the same reagent by adjusting the color of the incident light. "The special feature is that we can control the selectivity of the chemical reaction by turning on the light bulb of the right color," says Dr. Yevheniia Markushyna. "Today, we have sustainable smart photocatalysts and the knowledge to produce value-added organic compounds using solar light in the most efficient way possible," says Dr. Aleksandr Savateev, group leader and head of the photocatalysis study recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. He adds, "Potentially, our method could also make the production of sulfonamide antibiotics more sustainable."

Function

Complex biological objects, such as the human eye or state-of-the-art cameras in electronic devices can perceive light colors. It is a great challenge to develop "smart molecules" consisting of only tens of atoms. Such molecule must not only recognize the light colors (blue, red and green), but also perform a certain “programmed” action that depends on the specific light color.

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • photocatalysts
  • chemical reactions
  • sulfonamides
More about MPI für Kolloid- und Grenzflächenforschung
More about Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  • News

    Terahertz light from superconducting stripes

    Why do some materials carry electrical currents without any resistance only when cooled to near absolute zero while others do so at comparatively high temperatures? This key question continues to vex scientists studying the phenomenon of superconductivity. Now a team of researchers from And ... more

    Mirror image molecules reveal drought stress in forests

    Worldwide, plants emit about 100 million tonnes of monoterpenes into the atmosphere each year. These volatile organic molecules include many fragrances such as the molecule pinene – known for its pine fresh scent. Since these molecules are highly reactive and can form tiny aerosol particles ... more

    Rethinking indoor air chemistry

    People typically spend 90 percent of their lives inside, at home, at work or in transport. Within these enclosed spaces, occupants are exposed to a multitude of chemicals from various sources, including outdoor pollutants penetrating indoors, gaseous emissions from building materials and fu ... more