International Year of Chemistry 2011: Two young scientists from Italy and Turkey win the Chemistry in South-East Europe Grant
The UNESCO Venice Office financed the “Chemistry in South-East Europe” grant which will be awarded to the two selected young chemists from Italy and Turkey during the closing ceremony of the International Year of Chemistry 2011, organized by the Italian National Commission for UNESCO on 15 December at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. This grant was aimed towards supporting a fruitful scientific collaboration between Italian and South-East European researchers in chemistry.
After review of the proposals by a Technical Committee, the Jury endorsed the 2 recipients of the “Chemistry in South-East Europe” grant, supported and financed by the UNESCO Venice Office - UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe for their joint study. Congratulations to the winners, Dr. Marco Masia and Dr. Özgür Birer, who come respectively from Italy and Turkey.
Dr Masia is a theoretical chemist with interests in studying reaction mechanisms using advanced free energy techniques and ab initio simulations. He obtained his MSc in Chemistry in 2000 from Sassari University (Italy) and his PhD in Physics in 2005 from the Technical University of Catalunya (Spain). He spent one year as a Research Associate within the group headed by Prof. Dominik Marx in Ruhr Universitaet, Bochum (Germany). From December 2006, he is a Research Assistant at the University of Sassari (Italy) and associate member of Italian National Research Council (CNR).
Dr Birer is an experimental physical chemist with interests in spectroscopy and surfaces. He obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey and his Ph.D. degree from Princeton University, New Jersey, USA. He joined the group headed by Prof. Martina Havenith in Ruhr-Universitaet, Bochum, Germany for his post-doctoral studies. He is currently a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and the deputy director of the Surface Science Research Center at Koç University, İstanbul,Turkey.
The selected study takes the well known equation for acid dissociation: HCl<sub>(aq)</sub>+ ? H<sub>2</sub>O-> H<sub>3</sub>O+<sub>(aq)</sub>+ Cl-<sub>(aq)</sub> and simply asks how many water molecules it takes to dissociate a single HCl molecule. The experiment begins by loading an HCl molecule in a tiny droplet of liquid helium. Water molecules are added one by one to the same droplet while the spectroscopic signature of the dissociation is monitored. The dissociation requires exactly four water molecules. However, it is quite puzzling how this reaction can take place in the helium droplet because the temperature is below 1 K. Theoretical calculations demonstrate that it is the one by one addition of the water molecules to the droplet that makes this reaction possible. Simulations also suggest that the third hydrogen on the hydronium ion (H<sub>3</sub>O+) does not come from the HCl molecule. This peculiar point is proven by repeating the experiment with the heavy isotope DCl. This study theoretically describes the mechanism leading to the tiniest droplet of acid and experimentally proves it beyond doubt. The study also signals a paradigm shift in the comprehension of low temperature reactions.