PhD position Origin of Homochirality (1.0 FTE)

PhD position Origin of Homochirality (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
12 Jan 12 Feb Groningen

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The University of G

Job description

The University of Groningen is a research university, currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists. The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) is the largest faculty within the University, offering first-rate education and research in a wide range of science and engineering disciplines.

The mission of the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry is to perform excellent research and teaching in molecular and supramolecular chemistry. Core activities in the chemical sciences such as bioorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, molecular inorganic chemistry and molecular materials chemistry are embedded in the institute. The research programme is focused on synthesis, catalysis, functional materials, bio-organic chemistry/chemical biology and systems chemistry/complex molecular systems.

The research program of the Feringa group is focused on synthetic and physical organic chemistry. Inspired by Nature's principles of molecular assembly, recognition, transport, motion and catalysis, the goal is to exploit the full potential of synthetic chemistry to create new structures and functions. A major part of the research is directed towards dynamic molecular systems. The focus is on molecular nanoscience, novel responsive materials and photo-pharma exploring biohybrid systems, self-assembly, molecular switches and motors. A second part of the program deals with the development (and application in chemical biology) of novel stereoselective synthesis methods and asymmetric catalysis. Chirality is a leading theme and over the years a unique and broad expertise in fundamental aspects of stereochemistry has been acquired including chiroptical phenomena, chiral amplification and origin of chirality.

“Chiral symmetry breaking to generate a tiny bias of enriched molecules exploring physical and chemical methods”

The origin of life ranks arguably among the most important fundamental scientific problems and the understanding how prebiotics living systems might have emerged from simple molecules will have major impact on the elucidation of the complex (bio-) molecular machinery of the cell (and impact other scientific fields from philosophy to astrobiology). One of the key features of life is the presence of its essential molecules such as amino acids, proteins, sugars and DNA as one mirror image form. Homochirality is an intrinsic property of life, essential for e.g. molecular recognition and information processing, enzyme functioning and cell replication. However, the origin of biomolecular homochirality is one of our great mysteries.

The essential fundamental scientific questions are:

- What is the mechanism to create a symmetry breaking at the molecular level? Common to all chemical transformations to generate chiral molecules exactly a 50:50 ratio of mirror image forms is obtained. How to create a tiny chiral bias i.e. preference for one handedness in prebiotic relevant molecules?
- How to achieve chiral amplification to arrive at exclusive homochiral molecules? In other words mechanisms have to be discovered for the amplification/enrichment starting from a tiny bias to either left-handed or right-handed molecules.

Based on our long-standing and pioneering research on chirality we plan to address these two fundamental questions.

Photochemistry with circular polarized light will be studied on model compounds to either accomplish i) deracemization or ii) perform photochemical synthesis of chiral compounds. Circular polarized light (CPL, the light used for irradiation has either left-or right- handedness) is considered highly relevant from a prebiotic perspective (strong exposure of molecules to intense irradiation and abundantly present in outer space). CPL will be used to shift the 50:50 equilibrium (deracemization) of amino acid precursor molecules based on our discovery of chiroptical switches using CPL irradiation. We will explore photoredox catalysis using CPL for the synthesis of chiral amino acids, sugars and acids. Photoredox catalysis is a rapidly emerging field of chemical science providing unprecedented reactivity and the use of CPL for photochemical synthesis is unprecedented. Alternatively, the use of magnetic fields in radical coupling reactions offers an exciting opportunity to create a small chiral bias taking advantage of the recently discovered CISS effect leading to chiral spin control chemical radicals. A radical basis for biomolecular homochirality based on the earth’s magnetic field is a daring scenario.


University of Groningen


We are looking for candidates who meet the following requirements:

- a MSc degree in chemistry or a related field
- the ability to work independently
- excellent grades
- creativity, determination and motivation.

Experience in synthetic organic chemistry, catalysis and/or photochemistry is a plus.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit evidence of competency in English, please see University of Groningen’s English Language Requirements for details.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

- a salary of € 2,541 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 3,247 gross per month in the fourth and final year, based on a full-time position (1.0 FTE)
- a holiday allowance of 8% gross annual income
- an 8.3% year-end bonus
- a position for four years; you will get a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years; prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the next three years is to be expected
- a university PhD training programme is part of the agreement and the successful candidates will be enrolled in the Graduate School of Science and Engineering.

The starting date is flexible


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • max. €3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • V23.0018


University of Groningen

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Broerstraat 5, 9712 CP, Groningen

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