DTU Kemi - Young Investigators

Young Investigators lead new Research Groups

Monday 15 May 17


is Australian. She moved to Great Britain in 2006 to take on a position at the University of Cambridge. In 2011, she accepted a position as Postdoc at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen and went on to become Researcher at DTU Chemistry in 2014. Sophie Beeren has published a long range of scientific articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), Angewandte Chemie, and other prestigious journals.


received in 2014 a Sapere Aude grant. This national program is designed to boost the careers of especially talented young Danish scientists. He used the grant for Postdoc stays at various institutions under the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), France, and at the University of Montreal, Canada. The new grant from Villum fonden allows him to set up a group in his native country.

Significant grants from the Villum Young Investigators Programme allow two highly talented researchers to build strong groups at DTU Chemistry.

Of 16 Danish scientists granted funding in 2017 from the prestigious Young Investigators Programme sponsored by Villum Fonden, two will now be able to set up ambitious groups at DTU Chemistry. Sophie Beeren was already employed at DTU Chemistry as Researcher. The grant of DKK 10.0 million allows her to expand her group from two to six members.Kasper Steen Pedersen returns to his native country after Postdoc stays at French and Canadian universities. He has been granted DKK 8.6 million from Villum Fonden.

Non-natural Selection of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are vital to our wellbeing. However, the synthesis of carbohydrates using traditional organic synthesis routes is notoriously difficult. A research team led by Sophie Beeren sets out to develop a smarter, very different method. Carbohydrates, or saccharides, play important roles in chemical biology. For example, saccharides present on the cell surfaces are instrumental in processes such as cell-cell recognition and communication, surface adhesion, and immune response. Thus, the potential for using saccharides in both prophylaxis and treatment of diseases is huge. A 10.0 million DKK donation from Villum Fonden allows the efforts at DTU Chemistry in saccharide syntheses to be stepped up considerably. Recipient of the grant is Researcher Sophie Beeren who will expand her group from two to six scientists. “Carbohydrates constitute one of the three major biological polymer groups. Exploration of the two other groups, which are DNA and proteins, has progressed strongly as efficient synthesis routes were found. Time is due to achieve similar progress by improving carbohydrate synthesis,” says Sophie Beeren.

Like building an arch
Rather than constructing saccharides step by step as seen in traditional organic synthesis Sophie Beeren’s idea is to synthesize a large number of related substances, also known as a chemical library. Subsequently, the number of candidates will be narrowed down as the substances are screened for the desired properties. The process is supported by addition of molecules which serve as a template for the saccharides. ”The method resembles the way arches have been constructed for centuries. Initially a wooden template is built. Then stones and cement are put on top. When the arch is complete, the wooden template is removed,” Sophie Beeren explains.

Non-natural selection

Sophie Beeren calls the method non-natural selection. In natural selection the most fit – or well adapted – organisms survive, as Charles Darwin famously noted. In chemistry, this is reflected in the observation that the most stable molecules survive. “The most stable molecules are not necessarily those best suited for the applications we seek. The addition of the template molecules steers the selection away from the one which would have taken place spontaneously. We obtain products with the desired properties rather than just stable products,” says Sophie Beeren.

Chemistry for The Quantum Society
Extremely powerful computers, better catalysts and airport security sensors able to detect hidden explosives – these are three examples of future technologies based on molecular level phenomena.

Based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern physics on an atomic scale, a wave of new technologies are about to help solve many of today’s global challenges. A new research group led by Kasper Steen Pedersen will work at the international forefront of chemistry for such applications.

The focus of the group will be 2D materials science – meaning layers of material so thin, that their thickness can be regarded as just one molecule.

“At this level the properties of the material can be very different from the same material in a thicker 3D version. For example, the magnetic and conductive properties are often entirely different,” explains Kasper Steen Pedersen.

Computers, catalysts, and sensors
The magnetic and conductive properties at the molecular level are crucial to a number of future applications, one of them being quantum computers. Computers based on quantum mechanical phenomena are predicted to become far more powerful than even today’s super computers.

Other potential applications are novel types of catalysts, and sensors able to trace extremely small amounts of chemical substances – in principle down to a single molecule. For instance, such highly sensitive sensors may be used in airport security to detect a range of explosive which give off trace amounts of matter to the surrounding air.

A new world opens up
Obviously, a number of groups around the world are engaged in quantum mechanics chemistry, but the Pedersen Group has a unique angle, Kasper Steen Pedersen notes: “Over the latest years, graphene has attracted large interest within the field of 2D science. Graphene has, indeed, several exiting applications, but when the magnetic and conductive properties are in focus – as they are in our research – neither graphene nor any other existing 2D materials are quite satisfactory.

Our approach will be designing suitable building blocks at the molecular level and assemble them to form the structures we want. We are confident that this will open up a new world of advanced 2D materials with chemically tailor made properties.”


Villum Fonden supports research in the technical and natural sciences, as well as environmental, social and cultural projects in Denmark and abroad. In 2012, the foundation established its Young Investigators Programme. ”Villum Fonden has doubled the program since the first grant of DKK 75 million for young researchers in 2012. The result is that many of the younger researchers have set up independent research Groups, and several have been able to attract additional attractive research funding, for example from the EU. Furthermore we are pleased to know that many of the researchers due to their high professionalism subsequently have achieved a tenured position at a Danish  university”, says Director of Science Thomas Sinkjær, Villum Fonden.

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16 DECEMBER 2018