X-ray snapshots of reacting acids and bases - Erik T. J. Nibbering receives an ERC Advanced Grant for groundbreaking basic research

Dr. Erik T. J. Nibbering of the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy (MBI) in Berlin receives an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Goal with this prestigious award is to investigate and elucidate the elementary steps of aqueous proton transfer dynamics between acids and bases. The ERC Advanced Grant is endowed with 2.5 million euro and awarded to well-established top researchers in Europe pursuing scientifically excelling projects.

Dr. Erik T. J. Nibbering, head of the department "Femtosecond Spectroscopy of Molecular Systems" at MBI, has a major track record in time-resolved spectroscopy of ultrafast chemical reactions, in particular proton transfer between acids and bases, electron transfer in donor-acceptor complexes, and trans/cis isomerization. In recent years his activities have focused on the dynamics of the hydrogen bond structure of photoacid-base complexes and of hydrated protons.

How acids and bases react in water is a question raised since the pioneering days of modern chemistry. Recent decades have witnessed an increased effort in elucidating the microscopic mechanisms of proton exchange between acids and bases and the important mediating role of water in this. With ultrafast spectroscopy it has been shown that the elementary steps in aqueous proton transfer occur on femtosecond to picosecond time scales (1 femtosecond = 10-15 s = 1 millionth of a billionth of a second). Aqueous acid-base neutralization predominantly proceeds in a sequential way via water bridging acid and base molecules. These ultrafast experiments probing molecular transitions in the ultraviolet, visible and mid-infrared spectral ranges, though, only provide limited insight into the electronic structure of acids, bases and the water molecules accommodating the transfer of protons in the condensed phase. Soft-x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), probing transitions from inner-shell levels to unoccupied molecular orbitals, is a tool to monitor electronic structure with chemical element specificity.

The aim is now to develop steady-state and time-resolved soft-x-ray spectroscopy of acids and bases. Here novel liquid flatjet technology is utilized with soft-x-ray sources at synchrotrons as well as table-top laser-based high-order harmonic systems. Resolving the electronic structural dynamics of elementary steps of aqueous proton transport will furthermore elucidate the role of mediating water in bulk solution, and in specific conditions such as hydrogen fuel cells or trans-membrane proteins.

Further information can be found at Dr. Erik T. J. Nibbering  and on ERC Grants at http://erc.europa.eu/.