"The most fundamental and lasting objective of synthesis is not production of new compounds, but production of properties." -George S. Hammond, 1968 Norris Award
The research in the Anzenbacher research group is focused on exploring the processes associated with how molecules and ions interact and bind to each other. We also work on the synthesis of smart molecules and materials that not only change their optical properties (fluorescence and/or color) but also their physical properties such as conductivity in the presence of external stimuli. Such stimuli can be other molecules, ions, gasses, pH, temperature and many others.
We use the tools of organic synthesis and physical organic chemistry to prepare molecules and materials that allow us to investigate how molecules form complexes, assemblies, or aggregates. This field of science is called Supramolecular Chemistry, often referred to as the "chemistry beyond the molecule". This means that we have to make the molecules and materials, and then we look further (beyond) into what the molecules actually do.
This knowledge is important for biochemistry and biology - for example for design of drugs, for analytical chemistry to develop analytical tests, assays, and bioassays, and for the development of functional materials for application in photonics, including materials for luminescence-based sensors, Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs), and Organic Thin-Film Transistor (OTFT) based sensors.
In essence, our research is very multi-disciplinary and involves organic chemistry and synthesis, theoretical methods of molecular design, optical spectroscopy and NMR, high-throughput screening (HTS) methods, polymer chemistry, and others.
The inorganic anions such as chloride, phosphate, pyrophosphate, organo-phosphates such as nucleotide phosphates (ATP) are important for maintaining good health, but their imbalance is frequently associated with disease. Similarly, release of phosphate fertilizers or herbicides (Glyphosate/RoundUPTM) into environment causes problems (eutrophication) while industrial use of anions such as many polyfluorinated forever chemicals (PFAS) also require new molecules and materials for anion binding, sensing and sequestration of these species. These issues necessitate the development of compounds that can bind the anions (for remediation purposes) or act as anion-sensitive sensors to provide information about contamination and warning. Click here to learn more.
There are situation when complex mixtures of analytes must be investigated (blood, urine, contaminated river samples). In such cases, more than one sensor is needed. In such situation we use arrays of sensors, which are chemical (or sometimes even physical) devices that provide a wholistic information about the mixture. Such arrays may be sensor (micro-chips), fiber optics sensors, microelectrodes, or simple multi-well plates. There is a whole new science about how these sensor arrays are set up, how many individual sensor elements they need to comprise (as small as possible without any loss to analytical information), how to extract and treat the outputs and visualize the results (using artificial intelligence). Click here to learn more.
Researchers have developed fluorescence-based assays to identify inhibitors for human carbonic anhydrases (hCA) IX and XII, which are involved in solid tumors and have unfavorable prognoses. They aim to find selective inhibitors for these specific enzymes while leaving others unaffected. Their assay uses a competitive mechanism where a probe binds to the enzyme, quenching its fluorescence. Upon adding a competitive inhibitor, the probe is released and fluorescence is restored. Our group is focused on sensors for the conversion of ATP into ADP+Pi or AMP+PPi, as well as developing fluorescence-based sensors for PCR. The PCR sensors selectively and reversibly bind PPi (PCR product) in the presence of high concentrations of dNRPs, without interacting with primers or DNA polymerase. The goal is to create sensors compatible with all current PCR instruments. We are testing these sensors and comparing them to traditional DNA stains like SYBR Green I. Click here to learn more.
On many levels, chemistry is a dangerous and expensive undertaking. Some of the materials we are synthesizing might be potentially dangerous. Thus, we were thinking how could one practice chemistry and carry out chemical reactions in a way that it is absolutely safe? This is done by running the reaction on an ultra-small scale (zepto-mols, 10-21 mol). This is 1000-5000 molecules at a time. This, however, requires ultra-small reaction vessels (5-50 atto-Liter, aL is 10-18 L) to avoid problems associated with high dilution. This is challenge even for the smallest of nanofluidic setups. We try to solve this by creating nanoscopic "reactors" at the intersection of polymer nanofibers and performing the reactions there. Click here to learn more.
Organic compounds and materials display capability to conduct electricity, absorb and emit light, i.e. they display properties of semiconductors and may be used in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), organic photovoltaics (OPVs) and organic field effect transistors (OTFTs). We synthesize emissive compounds and materials with carefully engineered HOMO-LUMO levels so that they can also act as semiconductors. Their properties are investigated both in solution and solid state. Successful materials are then used in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), organic photovoltaics (OPVs) and field effect transistors (TFTs). Click here to learn more.