2017 KNCV Backer prize awarded to Dr. Albert Wong
The Backer Prize is awarded annually to the best PhD thesis in the field of organic chemistry and catalysis in the broadest sense, and was defended in The Netherlands. This year the Committee consisted of Ilja Voets, Marthe Walvoort, Tati Fernández-Ibáñez and Martin Wolffs (Chair); experts in a wide range of disciplines within the fields of organic chemistry and catalysis.
The committee received 40 theses. The submitted theses which were judged based on the scientific quality, the relevance of the research, the clarity and structure of the thesis and their contributions to the field of organic chemistry and catalysis, centralizing around molecular thinking.
After many deliberations, the jury has decided to award the 2017 KNCV Backer prize to Dr. Albert Wong for his PhD-thesis titled ‘Synthesis of out-of-equilibrium reaction networks’. The study was conducted at the Radboud University Nijmegen under the guidance of Prof. Wilhelm Huck.
Dynamic systems are central to life on earth. The fact that dynamic systems are out of equilibrium is essential to human life. The complex interplay between molecular reaction networks and external stimuli are a great challenge to replicate in the lab. The thesis by Dr. Albert Wong combined fundamental principles of organic chemistry, chemical engineering, molecular modeling and enzymology in a molecular approach that is fundamental to the synthesis of out-of-equilibrium reaction networks. The oscillating system that was chosen is built around the enzyme trypsin which was combined with 2 other enzymes and 3 inhibitors that are working together. The molecular design of different inhibitors proved to be crucial for the functioning of the oscillating reaction network, together with the flow and the temperature of the surroundings. The direct interplay with molecular modeling proved to be instrumental to understand the underlying principles and the observations that were made. This approach enabled the design of refined and improved oscillating networks. It additionally revealed that robustness and resilience of the oscillating reaction network was strongly dependent on the molecular structure of the pro-inhibitor.
The scientific quality, context, as well as the legibility of the thesis were all contributing factors in reaching the top of the list. But above all, the jury was impressed with the big step forward that was achieved by using a molecular approach to study out-of-equilibrium networks, which was further strengthened by bringing together key elements from diverse disciplines. All these factors combined convinced the jury to declare this thesis as the winner of the 2017 Backer prize.