25 November 2013

Wanderlust driven chemist calculates all, from climate to solar energy

50th birthday

Hydrogen bonds are Henrik G. Kjaergaard's passion and field of research at the University of Copenhagen, where he is a professor of physical chemistry. Bonds between hydrogen atoms may seem miniscule and insignificant, but they are responsible for some of the planet's most fundamental and exceptional phenomena; From the boiling of water at 100 degrees, to the ability of DNA strands to stick together, so Kjaergaard's impassioned fundamental research is broadly applicable. Applications include predicting climate change, investigating cutting edge pharmaceuticals and the invention of future energy sources at the newly created;Center for the Exploitation of Solar Energy; based at UCPH's Department of Chemistry.

Professor Henrik G Kjærgaard i laboratoriet

Chemistry drove the Dane to internationality

While Kjærgaard is a Dane through and through, he had to be coaxed from his professorship at New Zealand’s University of Otago, and lured back to Copenhagen in 2009. He was struck by wanderlust after his graduation from Sønderborg State School. First it was to Odense University, where he obtained his MSc in chemistry and physics in 1988. And after that, it was off to the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada where he completed the PhD that had begun in Odense. He stayed for another seven years.

Collaborating with the best

While in Canada, and during his following 12 year residence in New Zealand, Kjærgaard was invited to partner with some of the world’s most eminent universities. These included the California Institute of Technology and University of Colorado at Boulder in the US and Japan’s Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Lessons in openness

The numerous residencies and stays abroad have schooled Kjærgaard in openness. Socially, personally and in his professional research life, Kjærgaard tries to ignore convention. And this has been to his advantage. Kjærgaard combines theoretical chemistry with experimental work in the laboratory. It’s a challenge to balance these two sides of chemistry, but he’s of the opinion that the fusion approach has been a key to his success. 

Understanding hydrogen made a difference to climate researchers

Kjærgaard is no stranger to acclaim. He has received New Zealand’s prestigious “Maurice Wilkins Prize” and despite his somewhat narrow field of research, has twice published results in the renowned journal Science. On both occasions, the results convinced climate researchers to change the calculation methods used to study global warming.

More important than anything is... Not the research

But even in the research world, where articles in prestigious publications are seen as so precious, Kjærgaard views his 125 publications as much less important than the many students with whom he has taught and worked with on their way from education to employment in various sectors, and across so many continents.

More important than all, is his home life in Danish hamlet Dragør with wife Mette and his three children, Eva, 17, Erik, 14 and 11-year-old Ellen.

Kjaergaard turned 50 on november 25th 2013