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In the frame of the International Research Training Group "Catalysts and Catalytic Reactions for Organic Synthesis" six research groups from the University of Freiburg and five research groups from the department of chemistry at the universtiy of Basel combine their research and teaching activities in the innovative field of catalytic organic synthesis. Intensive bilateral collaboration are ensured by the formation of joined research projects. The scientific research program encompasses important areas of catalytic organic synthesis, from catalyst development, to catalyst separation in biphasic systems, to asymmetric catalysis, enzyme mimics, catalytic enantioselective desymmetrization and application to total synthesis of biologically relevant target molecules. The International Research Training Group provides the students with a vibrant research atmosphere and with an educational program to develop a deep knowledge of catalysts and catalytic reactions with a focus to organic synthesis. The incorporation of industrial experts in the educational program ensures practice relevance and will demonstrate the importance of catalyts and catalytic reactions in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.


Scientific program

Organic Synthesis is the basis of molecular sciences, since it allows to built matter on a molecular and supramolecular defined level. Hence, Organic Synthesis is a key technology which is essential for life science (e.g. drug discovery and drug production), dyes and effect compounds, commodity chemicals as intermediates, crop science, material science as well as for the development of nano devices. In all of these fields the frontiers of Organic Synthesis define the level of complexity and sophistication one can reach and handle on a predictable and rational basis. Thus, Organic Synthesis as a key technology is essential for scientific and economic success for all scientific and economic ventures in these fields. However, Organic Synthesis is only as powerful as its single tools, its synthetic transformations. Hence, the more powerful these synthetic reactions will become the more powerful Organic Synthesis as a whole will be.

Interestingly, the criteria which define efficiency in the area of synthetic reactions have become increasingly challenging. Thus, one of the newer criteria is that of the development of reactions which intrinsically minimize the production of waste material. Additionally, reactions should proceed under mild conditions which would reduce costs of energy. A solution to this could be the development and use of catalysts in organic reactions. In contrast to a classical reagent, which is employed in generally stoechiometric amounts, a catalyst is used in substoechiometric i.e. catalytic amounts, which of course minimizes waste products. Additionally, the wright catalyst decreases activation energy of a reaction which results in milder reaction conditions. Furthermore, catalysts may offer unique reactivities of organic substrates which will lead to transformations which are not accessible by other means. However, catalysis alone does not guarantee an efficient synthetic reaction. It is important that among competing reaction pathways leading to isomeric products (regio-, diastereo-, enantiomers) the catalyst allows for an efficient energetic differentiation with the overall goal of selectivity. Certainly, this is one of the important criteria for the efficiency of a catalytic reaction, since any percentage of unwanted byproduct is generally considered as waste, which has to be separated from the desired product and finally disposed.

The scientific goal of this international research training group is the development and application of catalytic reactions for Organic Synthesis. This includes the development and study of catalysts which can be of synthetic origin (e.g. metal complexes, organocatalysts) or of natural origin (e.g. enzymes). Emphasis is given to the development of practical catalysts for enantioselective catalysis based on transition metal complexes modified with new P,N-ligands as catalysts (joined project A. Pfaltz/B. Breit). In addition to this more rational approach to new catalysts, a combinatorial approach based on a solid phase parallel catalyst screening method will help to accelerate the catalyst discovery process (H. Wennemers). A third approach to new catalysts is based on the development of supramolecular complexes which mimic cofactors and catalytic reactions of enzymes. This is a joined interdisciplinary research project between the groups of W. Woggon (Basel) and D. Plattner (Freiburg) who provides the essential expertize to investigate reaction mechanisms of catalysts employing mass spectrometry which is crucial for the success of this project. A practical problem of catalytic reactions in homogeneous phase is the catalyst separation from the product. The project of W. Bannwarth will probe fluorous biphasic systems and scCO2 with new fluoro-tagged catalysts as a solution to the catalyst separation problem. Catalytic reactions which lead to a desymmetrization of symmetric substrates and its use in the context of natural product synthesis will be probed in the project proposed by R. Brückner.

Thus, the scientific program spans the range of catalyst development, development of catalytic reactions as well as application of these reactions to the synthesis of natural products and analogues. In our opinion this group of eleven researchers with a strong background in catalysis and organic synthesis is the ideal basis of the starting phase of an international graduate training school. This particular constellation of eleven research groups focusing on a research topic of such immense scientific importance is certainly a unique situation in Europe. The geographically ideal situation between Basel and Freiburg facilitates organizational details to allow for efficient joined research and educational activities.
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