Equation champ wants to wire molecules – University of Copenhagen

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20 February 2014

Equation champ wants to wire molecules

New staff

Climate friendly energy in ample amounts at low prices is what everyone wants. Chemists at the University of Copenhagen are working hard to develop these new sources of energy, but the work requires thousands of hours in the laboratory. The only way to avoid all those costly lab hours is to simulate some of the experiments in computers. And that requires good theories.

Theoretician to the theoreticians will develop new equations

 With a new hire the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen hopes to boost the development of more precise theories for the field. Thorsten Hansen, who was instated as associate professor on January 1st, may be described as a “theoretician to the theoreticians”.

“I do not calculate as much as most theoreticians. Instead I develop the equations needed to carry out new types of calculations”, explains Hansen.

Rare species in a borderland

Thorsten Hansen is that rare species: A chemisist… Or a physichemist. In other words: He works on the frontier between physics and chemistry. This means he is eminently placed to develop the new mathematical equations needed when designing brand new chemical compounds. This ability will be valuable when the more experimentally minded colleagues at the Department get to work developing new solar cells, new fuel cells or for that matter, new molecular electronics.

Understanding electrical power on the molecular level

Energy sources and electronic components of the future will have one thing in common. You will need to get electrons to move through wires. That, in fact, is the definition of electrical current. But as wires grow smaller the challenges grow bigger. Fortunately these are the very challenges that Hansen has been training to conquer.

For four years Hansen worked at Northwestern University in Chicago with Professor Mark Ratner who is considered a world leader in the field of electron transfer and molecular electronics. He went on to work for three years as the only theoretician at the experimentally very strong spectroscopy department at Lund University, Sweden.

“My role in Lund was to develop the calculation methods needed to understand some very complex experiments giving new quantum mechanical information. When you sit that close to the experimentalists, you get a pretty good idea about the problems they face”, Hansen says.

New playmates and old to open future gates

In his new position at the University of Copenhagen Hansen expects to continue his collaborations with research groups in Chicago as well as Lund but he has also identified new “playfellows” in Copenhagen. In years to come he hopes to contribute to the development of new solar cells, to the development of the fuel cells expected to replace the internal combustion engine and to the development of electrically conductive molecules needed for the microscopic and environmentally friendly electronic components of the future. Thorsten Hansen is 39 years old, lives in the Copenhagen district of Frederiksberg and has a chemist girlfriend who is currently concluding a PhD at the University of Aarhus.