Durham research sheds new light on how chemical reactions work
(19 August 2005)
Research from Durham University’s esteemed Department of Chemistry has contributed to a breakthrough in the complex world of understanding how the quantum mechanics of chemical reactions work. As a result, the research co-author, Dr Eckart Wrede, a Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Durham, has had his work recognised and selected for publication in the prestigious international journal Science on Friday 19 August.
The research was carried out as part of a long-standing collaboration with colleagues at the University of Nottingham, led by Dr Stuart Althorpe, a former Research Fellow at Durham, and provides a leap forward for scientists all over the world. By understanding chemical processes better chemists will be able to conduct experiments more quickly and accurately and make new chemicals more cheaply and efficiently.
Dr Wrede said: “This work provides another vital piece of the jigsaw for understanding how chemical reactions work. Since the late 1920s chemists have been trying to gain a better understanding of all the different factors that occur during a chemical reaction particularly in terms of quantum mechanics, or put simply how atoms and molecules behave during a chemical reaction. Our research takes us an important step closer to fully understand these chemical processes in the greatest possible detail.”
This research will be particularly helpful to chemists studying reactions in the atmosphere. For example, there are very many different reactions involved in the destruction of the ozone layer. Dr Wrede added: “As an example, this research will be helpful to solve reactions which can cause pollution in combustion processes or in the atmosphere. It can help to narrow down which reactions are the most polluting and should be examined more urgently to find ways to reduce their effects.”
The Nottingham group used a sophisticated supercomputer to calculate the quantum behaviour of the atoms and molecules throughout a chemical reaction. Dr Eckart Wrede then created a ‘billiard ball movie’ which allowed them to watch the motion of the atoms and molecules and learn more about how they reacted with each other. They found that only in certain situations did the movement of atoms and molecules speed up or slow down a chemical reaction.
Head of Department, Professor David Parker said: “It is research like this that ensures that the Department of Chemistry at Durham University maintains its excellent reputation for research and continues to be one of the few departments in the UK to hold a grade 5*A in the national Research Assessment exercise. At Durham we are committed to producing world-class research and by Dr Wrede’s paper being published in Science, he and his colleagues at Nottingham will gain highly merited and well-earned international recognition.”
Contact: Dr Eckart Wrede, Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, Department of Chemistry 0191 334 2129 Eckart Wrede