PhD student builds ultrasensitive molecular measurement instrument – University of Copenhagen

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09 April 2015

PhD student builds ultrasensitive molecular measurement instrument

Chemistry research

When chemists invent new drugs, fuels and materials, it’s often the result of having discovered new ways of getting chemical substances to react with one another. But it’s hard to reveal new reaction methods because most chemical processes are too fast, too small or way too complex to be measured. Department of Chemistry PhD Liv Bærenholdt Klein has created a new measurement instrument that will open up the doors for previously impossible chemical reactions.

Femtosecond time resolved photoelectron spectroscopy

The Velocity Map Imaging (VMI) instrument makes it possible to conduct what’s known as “femtosecond time resolved photoelectron spectroscopy”. The instrument provides Klein, together with her supervisor Theis Sølling and their colleagues, the opportunity to collect information about the characteristics of conditions in photochemical or photophysical processes. This can be used to study how molecules and functional groups behave in chemical reactions or photophysical processes.

“It is important to know how functional groups are activated in order to understand their reactivity and how that might be altered,” says Klein.

"Thanks to this new opportunity, we have already secured our first agreement for international collaboration. It is valuable for us as a group, as well as for the students who work on projects with us!

Liv Bærenholdt Klein

PhD student

Dept of Chemistry

University of Copenhagen

Measurably better

There are only some 70 VMI instruments worldwide, and the design and construction of the VMI spectrometer is an important part of Klein’s PhD dissertation. She spent three months with leading experts in Dave Townsend’s research group at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, where she learned relevant techniques and principles. She built the instrument in collaboration with SCIENCE’s main workshop. Klein believes that the new instrument will contribute important new information about the dance of electrons about molecules.

“With our ‘old’ instrument, we were able to measure less than 10% of electrons. With VMI, we should be at 100%. We’ll also get the chance to study molecules that were previously impossible to obtain in their gaseous state. Thanks to this new opportunity, we have already secured our first agreement for international collaboration. It is valuable for us as a group, as well as for the students who work on projects with us,” says Liv Bærenholdt Klein. However, she doesn’t think that a wider group of people will harvest results from the new instrument for the time being.

“Currently, the instrument isn’t anything to be made use of by “civilians”. Our field is one of basic research and concrete applications are still a way’s off. However, more knowledge is always good. You never know where it might lead,” concludes Liv Bærenholdt Klein.