Human of #univie Sebastian: Solving chemical riddles

“The question ‘What exactly is chemistry?’ has been on my mind since the first day of my studies, but if someone asks me about it, I still have to ponder it for a moment. Without a doubt, you could spend hours trying to answer this question, because chemistry is very diverse in all its disciplines, ranging from the basics to analytics, synthesis and biochemistry. In a nutshell: Chemistry is the study of the elements. How do they behave? What can they do? And almost more importantly: How do I get them to do what I want them to do?

I am doing research in the organic synthesis group. The aim is to discover new ways of synthesising organic molecules. These molecules are mainly based on carbon, but, of course, there are exceptions: Oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, halogens and hydrogen are other common elements that play an important role in this discipline.

My enthusiasm for this field of chemistry stems from the way you approach problems. Finding the target molecule you want to produce and the way to get there is like solving a riddle: Which chemicals do you have to add to achieve the desired transformation? How can you additionally achieve a high reaction yield? And how can you make the synthesis work as resource-efficiently as possible without producing unwanted by-products?

We have to consider these and various other questions for every single synthesis, which in turn creates even more riddles that we try to solve as elegantly as possible. The riddle I am currently working on in my master’s thesis focuses on amide bonds. A molecule is called an amide if it contains exactly that structural element in which a carbon atom forms a double bond with an oxygen atom and a single bond with a nitrogen atom. I add a very strong electrophile to my amides. The electrophile interacts with the amides and turns them into reactive compounds. Ultimately, I cause the resulting intermediate to react with other chemicals. I am researching reactions that are still largely unknown and I am testing them on different starting substances. It remains exciting to see where the path takes us.” – Sebastian Heindl

Sebastian is studying Chemistry at the University of Vienna.

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