A new Emmy Noether Group for Dr. Juan J. Navarro
The German Research Foundation (DFG) has accepted Dr. Juan J. Navarro into the Emmy Noether Programme. He will lead the Metal-Organic Interfaces (MOIN) Emmy Noether Group in the Interface Science Department.
Organic molecules are the building blocks of life and enable modern technologies in the fields of energy, sensing or electronics. Their versatility leads to a myriad of structures with many different functionalities. The role of organic molecules in catalysis is manifest in living organisms. For instance, the organic matrix surrounding metal centers in metalloenzymes is designed by nature to carry out specific biochemical reactions with high efficiency, allowing essential processes such as photosynthesis or respiration. Tuning the chemical environment of catalytic sites with organic ligands to influence their activity, selectivity and stability is in fact a promising strategy for energy conversion applications such as water electrolysis or the electrochemical CO2 reduction (CO2R).
In the last decades, great progress has been made functionalizing surfaces and developing on-surface
synthesis routes to create novel metal-organic assemblies. “Employing the outstanding facilities available in the Interface Science Department of the Fritz Haber Institute, we are able to prepare and study these materials at the single-molecule level, characterizing their molecular arrangement, adsorption configuration, chemical composition and electronic structure”, explains Navarro. “The goal of my group is to take advantage of this expertise to tune the properties of electrocatalytic surfaces and add groundbreaking catalytic functionalities”.
The CO2R is an important electrocatalytic reaction to close the anthropogenic carbon cycle of industrial societies. The idea behind it is to use the electric current generated through renewable energy sources to transform CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels employing a suitable electrocatalyst. “This reaction leads to a broad product distribution, so the challenge is to obtain a relevant relative amount of a specific hydrocarbon or alcohol. The functionalization of the electrocatalyst with organic molecules is a novel approach to tune the selectivity of the CO2R reaction”, remarks the new group leader. “I’m looking forward to welcoming passionate students and postdocs who are willing to work on a highly interdisciplinary project combining surface science, organic chemistry and electrocatalysis.”
Juan J. Navarro was born in Estepona, Spain, and studied Physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid. His interest in the interaction between molecules and surfaces led him to perform an MSc in Molecular Nanoscience at the same university. He started his PhD in Condensed Matter Physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the IMDEA Nanoscience Institute, graduating in 2018, with his work about the covalent functionalization of graphene and the properties of this material as a promoter of on-surface reactions. In the same year, he moved to Berlin and joined the Interface Science Department at FHI led by Prof. Beatriz Roldán Cuenya. During his PostDoc, he extended his research towards the growth of two-dimensional oxide materials and the functionalization of metal and oxidized surfaces with organic molecules, having electrocatalytic reactions for energy applications in mind. In 2019 he was awarded the prestigious Humboldt Research Fellowship. Starting in September 2023, Navarro will lead the Metal-Organic Interfaces (MOIN) Emmy Noether Group in the Interface Science Department.
The Emmy Noether-Programm is aimed at highly qualified postdocs and junior professors on fixed-term contracts in the early stages of their academic careers. It enables them to qualify for a university professorship over a period of six years by independently leading an Emmy Noether research group.