News from the Boron Lab: University of Würzburg Professor Holger Braunschweig delivers Leibniz Lectures in Chennai and Bengaluru

(11.09.19) These are the moments in which a chemist catches her breath. Not because something went wrong in the lab – no, rather because new and exciting discoveries announce themselves. When a chemical element displays unexpected, new properties when introduced into a particular chemical bond. When these new properties have consequences for a whole array of chemical processes. When they disprove widely held assumptions about entire element groups, and in doing so suggest a possibility of exciting applications in catalysis and materials science.

Two lectures given by the Leibniz Prize Holder Prof. Holger Braunschweig (University of Würzburg) in Chennai and Bengaluru in August 2019 dealt with discoveries of just this sort. The lectures – branded as Leibniz Lectures, in view of the prestigious award held by Braunschweig – took place during a trip organized by the DFG through South India, which also included two postdoctoral researchers from Würzburg, Dr Tom Stennett and Dr Conor Pranckevicius. IIT Madras and IISc Bangalore, two top universities in Chennai and Bengaluru, respectively, served as the local host institutions for the talks in which the audience learned about some of Prof Braunschweig and his group’s latest finding in boron chemistry. The lectures, entitled “Borametallomimetics – Activation of Small Molecules by Low-valent Boron Species” described boron compounds in which the element behaves like transition metals and – like these – enables certain activation processes that were formerly unknown in boron chemistry. These compounds – borylenes, diborenes and diborynes – not only force us to re-evaluate the element boron, they also offer a perspective to new molecules which may give novel impulses to the fields of materials science and catalysis. Many researchers and students were present during the lectures and got the chance to interact with the team from Würzburg.

“For DFG, Leibniz Lectures are a great way to show the productivity of the German research system – and at the same time foster new research collaborations”, according to Matthias Kiesselbach, Director of DFG India Office. With a combined audience of about 400 persons and many discussions between the guests and members of the host institutions, this aim was certainly reached.

Prof Braunschweig is also happy with the trip: “India is an exciting country with great scientists. This was my first time in Chennai and Bengaluru, two cities with excellent research institutions. I must say that I was very impressed with what I saw during my days in South India.” For Braunschweig, it is clear that he will continue his close cooperation with Indian colleagues. He explains: “In chemistry, Indian institutions are now among the best in the world, and so I have every reason to seek collaborations with Indian partners and also to invite Indian postdocs to work in my lab in Würzburg.”


At present (Sept 2019), a joint DFG-DST Call for Applications in the fields of Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics invites Indo-German proposals.