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Chemistry under Force

Project description

A molecular picture of the mechanically induced rupture and reformation of chemical bonds

Single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) allows probing molecular processes by applying mechanical forces. Such experiments have provided unprecedented insights into the structure and function of biological systems, including DNA and proteins. However, the technique remains underexploited in chemistry, because of the small size of synthetic objects. The ability to stress one molecule at a time would advance fundamental understanding of chemical bonds, addressing open questions related to their mechanical stability, reversibility and lifetime under mechanical load. Researchers participating in the EU-funded ChemForce project will synthesise and probe tethered chemical bonds in various geometries and environments and develop new approaches in SMFS to probe bond reformation after rupture. Project research could provide the key to the development of more effective self-healing materials.


During the last three decades, physicists and biophysicists have largely exploited single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) to advance many fields of physics, nanotechnology, and biology. The ability to probe one molecule at a time allows us to ask and answer questions that are impossible, or extremely difficult, to approach by ensemble techniques.
Chemists did not fall into steps behind physicists and biologists and have benefited little from the advent of SMFS. The mechanics of bonds, which is still in its infancy, could largely benefit from SMFS. A big question like how forces and chemistry affect each other? merits special attention. Major questions, especially concerning the mechanical reversibility of bonds and bond lifetime under tension, could be elucidated.
Over the last years, my group has acquired the needed expertise and has developed a range of pioneering SMFS approaches that now allow us to tackle this big question requiring a considerable joint effort between synthetic chemists, chemical physicists and engineers. The extreme difficulty to probe bond reformation after its rupture has been a major failure of SMFS for the last 25 years. We propose here to solve this problem and adapt SMFS to obtain a detailed picture of the mechanics and reversibility of bonds. We will design, synthesize and probe a series of supramolecular and (dynamic) covalent tethered bonds in various geometries and chemical environments. The tethered structure will ensure that the partners of the bond stay in close proximity after being broken open, leaving the possibility of rebinding. This will offer remarkable opportunities to investigate in detail how mechanical forces and proximity can trigger chemical reactions.
If we wish to gain a deeper understanding of how forces and chemistry affect each other and open new possibilities for chemical synthesis and materials science, the development of SMFS adapted to detailed chemistry investigations remains a frontier to be conquered.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 496 838,00
4000 Liege

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Région wallonne Prov. Liège Arr. Liège
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 496 838,00

Beneficiaries (1)