q&more
My watch list
my.chemie.de  
Login  

News

Inert Nitrogen Forced to React with Itself

Dr. Rian Dewhurst / Dr. Marc-André Légaré / Universität Würzburg

For the first time, two molecules of atmospheric nitrogen (blue, middle) are coupled directly to each other in research by chemists from Würzburg and Frankfurt.

26-Mar-2019: Direct coupling of two molecules of nitrogen: chemists from Würzburg and Frankfurt have achieved what was thought to be impossible. This new reaction is reported in Science magazine and opens new possibilities for one of the most inert molecules on earth.

Constituting over 78 % of the air we breathe, nitrogen is the element found the most often in its pure form on earth. The reason for the abundance of elemental nitrogen is the incredible stability and inertness of dinitrogen (N2), a molecule comprising two nitrogen atoms and the form in which most nitrogen exists. Only in very harsh environments, such as in the ionosphere, can dinitrogen be assembled into longer nitrogen chains, forming N4 ions with very short lifetimes.

Despite the inertness of dinitrogen, nature is able to use it as an important feedstock for all kinds of living organisms. In biological systems, the very strong nitrogen-nitrogen bond in N2 can be cleaved and ammonia (NH3) can be produced, which then becomes the source of nitrogen for the entire food chain on Earth.

Completely new chemical reaction

Imitating nature, humans use the all-important Haber-Bosch process to break down nitrogen into ammonia, which can then be further processed to produce fertilizers and to make nitrogen available for the production of pigments, fuels, materials, pharmaceuticals and beyond. The production of compounds that contain chains of two, three or four nitrogen atoms – which are notably of pharmaceutical importance in vaso-dilating drugs, for example – requires the reassembly of mono-nitrogen molecules such as ammonia, because no direct reaction exists that can directly connect molecules of dinitrogen.

This week, research teams from Germany, from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) and Goethe University in Frankfurt, report a completely new chemical reaction in Science magazine. The new process uses boron-containing molecules to directly couple two molecules of N2 into a N4 chain. For the first time, they have succeeded in directly coupling two molecules of atmospheric nitrogen N2 with each other without first having to split the dinitrogen into ammonia, thus bypassing the Haber-Bosch process. This new method could enable the direct generation of longer nitrogen chains.

Opening the way to new chemistry

The new synthesis pathway functions under very mild conditions: at minus 30 degrees Celsius and under a moderate pressure of nitrogen (around four atmospheres). It also does not require a transition metal catalyst, unlike almost all biological and industrial reactions of nitrogen.

"This will open the way to a chemistry with which completely new chain-form nitrogen molecules can be synthesized," says JMU chemistry Professor Holger Braunschweig. For the first time, nitrogen chains containing a special variant of nitrogen (15N isotope) can also be easily produced.

This scientific breakthrough is based on the experimental work of the JMU postdoc Dr. Marc-André Légaré and the doctoral candidate Maximilian Rang.

Theoretical insight provided by the Goethe University

Doctoral candidate Julia Schweizer and Professor Max Holthausen of Goethe University Frankfurt were responsible for the theoretical part of the work. They dealt with the question of how the four nitrogen atoms are chemically connected.

"With the help of complex computer simulations, we were able to understand the unexpectedly complicated binding conditions in these beautiful molecules. This will enable us to predict the future stability of such nitrogen chains and support our experimental partners in the further development of their discovery," says the Frankfurt chemistry professor.

Next steps in the research

The research teams have taken aim at incorporating the new nitrogen chain molecules into organic molecules that are relevant for medicine and pharmacy, especially enabling the production of their 15N analogues.

The research into reactions of nitrogen was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The team members Dr. Marc-André Légaré and Dr. Guillaume Bélanger-Chabot are funded by postdoctoral fellowships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, respectively.

Original publication:
"The Reductive Coupling of Dinitrogen"; Marc-André Légaré, Maximilian Rang, Guillaume Bélanger-Chabot, Julia I. Schweizer, Ivo Krummenacher, Rüdiger Bertermann, Merle Arrowsmith, Max C. Holthausen und Holger Braunschweig; Science, 22. März 2019

Facts, background information, dossiers

More about Uni Frankfurt am Main

  • News

    Duplicate or mirror? Laser light determines chirality of molecules

    Seven of the ten most frequent medications contain chiral agents. These are molecules that occur in right- or left-handed forms. During chemical synthesis both forms usually occur in equal parts and have to be separated afterward, because chirality determines the agent’s effect in the body. ... more

    Smart people have better connected brains

    Differences in intelligence have so far mostly been attributed to differences in specific brain regions. However, are smart people’s brains also wired differently to those of less intelligent persons? A new study published by researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany) supports t ... more

    How to brew high-value fatty acids with brewer's yeast

    Short-chain fatty acids are high-value constituents of cosmetics, active pharmaceutical ingredients, antimicrobial substances, aromas or soap. To date, it has only been possible to extract them from crude oil by chemical means or from certain plants, such as coconut, using a complex process ... more

  • q&more articles

    From feast to famine and back – no problem for bacteria

    Bacteria are true survivors. In the course of evolution, they have developed numerous strategies to adapt to rapidly changing, uncertain environmental conditions. Their metabolism is much more sophisticated than that of human beings. Within minutes they can regulate their gene expression an ... more

    Why biosimilars and not biogenerics?

    Medicines produced using genetic techniques have existed since 2006, called “similar biological medicinal products” or “biosimilars”. Until a year ago, this was a fairly low-profile group, even in expert circles. This has all changed now, however, with the recent licensing of the first bios ... more

    Paradigm shift

    What would medicine be without drugs? But are these drugs being used optimally today? Not at all, as we now know thanks to the findings of molecular medicine. Because for the use of these drugs, it is important to observe two aspects: the disease and the patient. Only slowly is it becom ... more

  • Authors

    Prof. Dr. Jörg Soppa

    Jörg Soppa, born in 1958, studied biochemistry in Tübingen and then went on to do his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich. In 1990 he established his own research group there and held courses at the Institute of Genetics and Microbiology of Munic ... more

    Prof. Dr. Heinfried H. Radeke

    Heinfried H. Radeke studied medicine at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and received his medical license in 1985. His Ph.D. thesis was recognized as the best research dissertation of 1986. After two years as an assistant physician at the Göttingen University Hospital, he began his career ... more

    Prof. Dr. Theo Dingermann

    Theodor Dingermann, born 1948, studied pharmacy in Erlangen ­and received his doctor title in 1980 to become Dr. rer. nat. In 1990 he was offered the C4 professorship at the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biology, University of Frankfurt.  From 2000 to 2004 he was President of the German Phar ... more

More about Uni Würzburg

  • News

    Protein BRCA1 as a Stress Coach

    Two proteins work hand in hand to ensure that the tumour cells of neuroblastoma can grow at full speed. In "Nature", a Würzburg research team shows how the proteins can do this. Anyone who has ever studied the molecular basis of breast cancer will probably have heard of the abbreviation BR ... more

    New findings about anti-malaria drug

    Artemisinin is derived from the leaves and flowers of the annual mugwort (Artemisia annua) and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The effectiveness was investigated by the Chinese researcher Tu Youyou. Her research was 2015 rewarded with the Nobel Prize. Artemisini ... more

    Progress in Super-Resolution Microscopy

    Does expansion microscopy deliver true-to-life images of cellular structures? That was not sure yet. A new publication shows for the first time that the method actually works reliably. Immersing deeper and deeper into cells with the microscope. Imaging the nucleus and other structures more ... more

  • q&more articles

    High-tech in the beehive

    Healthy honeybee colonies are crucial to maintaining the natural diversity of flowering plants and the global production of plant-derived foodstuffs. As much as 35 % of this production depends on insect-based pollination, in which the honeybee (Apis mellifera) plays a leading role. For fund ... more

  • Authors

    Prof. Dr. Jürgen Tautz

    studied biology, geography and physics at the University of Konstanz before receiving his doctorate from the University on an ecology-related subject. Work in insect, fish and frog bio-acoustics was followed by his foundation of the BEEgroup at the University of Würzburg in 1994, a group th ... more

  • Videos

    High-tech in the beehive

    more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by:

 

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE