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Physics as a Guide to Chemistry

Prof. Jürgen Hauer

Wednesday, 07 March, 2018

Prof. Jürgen Hauer studies photosynthesis in plants, and uses what he learns to enhance the performance of artificial light-driven chemical systems.

Our newest MAP member, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hauer (39), is actually a returnee. He had previously worked in the Cluster as a postdoc in Prof. Eberhard Riedle’s group. Late last year he was appointed Professor of Dynamic Spectroscopies at the Technical University of Munich. His research focuses on ultrafast energy-transfer processes, which take place on femtosecond timescales, in molecules and molecular assemblies.

His new research group is still on the small side. In fact, at the moment, it consists of just two members, himself included. Setting up the new lab will also take some time, as the premises he will move into are currently undergoing renovation. Moreover, his instrumentation is still in his old lab in Vienna, so he regularly commutes between the Austrian capital and Munich. He notes with surprise how much Munich has changed during his years in Vienna. “It has become a real metropolis,” he says, “and the subway has been extended as far as Garching!” But above all, he appreciates the stimulating research environment in Garching close to the TU, LMU and the MPQ.

Hauer carries out basic research. His goal is to describe at the molecular and even the atomic level how natural processes, and in particular photosynthesis, operate. To understand natural photosynthesis, he studies photosynthetic bacteria as well as plants. “We then try to apply what we learn to artificial systems, with a view to persuading them to function more like the biological ones. Natural light-collecting systems are still more efficient than anything we can chemically synthesize,” he says.

His involvement with dynamic spectroscopic techniques came about more or less by accident. “I soon realized that classical wet chemistry – where you add compound A to compound B, and then there’s a puff of smoke or something precipitates ­– was not for me,” he explains. “I always found the physical processes behind the chemistry to be more interesting.” And that’s why Jürgen Hauer continues to utilize physical methods to answer chemical questions.

Text: Karolina Schneider