11.09.2017 change 06.11.2017

Carbon dioxide in the spectrometer vacuum

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Can a carbon dioxide molecule be bent with metal atoms and converted into something chemically useful? How to influence the gas to make it more susceptible to chemical transformation? Studies on CO2, as well as structural analysis of proteins - such as pancreatic digestive enzymes - are enabled by analytical technique called mass spectrometry.

"Mass spectrometry techniques allow to analyse the structure of organic compounds and investigate their reactivity in the gas phase" - explained Dr. Kacper Błaziak from the Institute of Organic Chemistry PAS, this year\'s winner of the START stipend of the Foundation for Polish Science.

The researcher uses quantum chemistry methods to understand the mechanism of chemical reactions. Understanding this mechanism is important for the process of organic synthesis of new chemicals. To obtain new structures that can have a positive impact on our health, scientists need to know the mechanisms of their formation. Basic research allows to understand how individual molecules behave in combination with other reagents. This will allow them to control their behaviour and influence the course of chemical events in the laboratory flask. The gained knowledge allows to efficiently and predictably obtain substances with potential activity.

In collaboration with Dr. Aneta Jezierska and Dr. Jarosław Panek from the University of Wrocław, the Foundation for Polish Science beneficiary conducts research on structures containing numerous intramolecular hydrogen bonds. An example of such structure is trypsin - digestive enzyme produced by the pancreas. In one of the joint projects with Prof. Renato Zenobi of ETH Zürich, Polish scientists will use computers simulations to analyse the properties and structures of proteins with complex structure.

"Experimental mass spectrometry techniques allow to transfer selected proteins from aqueous medium to spectrometer vacuum. Isolated molecules in the gas phase can therefore be analysed from the point of view of their mass, structure and reactivity. All the information from the measurements is compared with the theoretical models created based on advanced quantum chemistry simulations. As a result of this research, it becomes possible to accurately determine the shape and physicochemical parameters of bio-molecules, which brings us closer to understanding their complex function in living organisms" - said Dr. Błaziak.

Dr. Błaziak is a fellow at at the University of Oslo, Norway. As part of his research project, he studies molecules of carbon dioxide - an ubiquitous compound that over the last decade has become a serious challenge for scientists around the world.

"In the spectrometer vacuum, I induce collisions between carbon dioxide molecules and anions of metals such as titanium, iron, zinc, copper, etc. The goal is to find the answer, which of the catalytic metallic centres is most effective in activating linear CO2. Metal atoms can bend a molecule into an arc, thereby increasing its reaction potential. We want to understand their behaviour in chemical reactions at the molecular level, by analysing the electron structure of atoms. And in the future - present potential ways of converting carbon dioxide into other complex chemical structures, ones that would be more useful for our daily needs" - explained Dr. Błaziak.

According to the researcher, similar experiments can be conducted in Poland. We have the research infrastructure, spectrometers, knowledge, experience and computer resources to simulate the observed chemical changes. The fellowship, however, is very important to him because it allows him to learn about different scientific ideas, new ways of working, and to make contact with people of different cultures, experiences and views - including scientific views.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Karolina Duszczyk

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