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Hydrogen Bond Networks as Optical Probes

Project description

Research challenges conventional wisdom of how light interacts with matter in biological materials

Fluorescence in organic matter has long been associated with only a specific class of chemicals, namely conjugated systems. Recent experiments suggest that it is possible to observe fluorescence in media composed of dense hydrogen bond networks. Using advanced computer simulations, the EU-funded HyBOP project aims to decipher the exotic optical properties of hydrogen-bond networks and harness them as probes of water-mediated forces. To this end, researchers will investigate how to create fluorescent hydrogen-bond networks in biological materials and manipulate electrons and nuclei in water. Hydrogen-bond networks could aid in studying many different phenomena in a non-invasive way, including in medical settings.


Fluorescence takes place throughout the natural world. Most conventional chemical wisdom proposes that in organic entities, fluorescence occurs in conjugated systems, such as in the aromatics. However, in biological settings, the interaction of light with matter occurs in media built up of dense networks of hydrogen bonds. Recent experiments suggest that it is possible to observe fluorescence from these networks too. This could open the possibility of designing hydrogen-bond networks with enhanced fluorescence, offering enormous fundamental and practical potential.

The overarching goal of HyBOP is to decipher, using advanced computer simulations, the exotic optical properties of hydrogen-bond networks and to harness them as probes of water-mediated forces. To achieve this, HyBOP will tackle the following challenges:1) Establish the ground rules for creating fluorescent hydrogen-bond networks in biological materials. 2) Understand how to drive the electrons and nuclei of water networks into regimes where they can fluoresce. 3) Use the optical behaviour of these networks to probe hydrophobic forces in nature.

To uncover the complex chemistry of hydrogen-bond network fluorescence, and guide the discovery of new fluorophores, we will deploy state of the art electronic excited-state molecular dynamics in combination with machine-learning techniques. This will provide HyBOP with ground-breaking knowledge which will lay a theoretical framework to motivate development of new experimental probes of hydrophobicity.

HyBOP seeks to bring hydrogen-bond networks to the forefront of chemistry in their use as optical probes; by laying the theoretical ground-work for designing non-invasive fluorophores in biophysics, opening up a new window into the origins of autofluorescence in medical diagnostics and finally, provoking frontier electron and nuclear spectroscopy, HyBOP will have a spill-over effect and build new synergies across several branches of the physical sciences.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 523 488,00
75007 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 523 488,00

Beneficiaries (1)