Graphical representation of a bursting gold nanoparticle.
© Zhigilei

Humboldt Award Winner is Coming to UDE

Simulating Atoms and Fractions of a Second

  • von Birte Vierjahn
  • 28.06.2021

His world is picoseconds – trillionths of seconds; too short for any atomically resolved experiments: Professor Leonid Zhigilei is a materials scientist at the University of Virginia (USA). He was awarded the Humboldt Research Award for his calculations on the production of nanoparticles and will be spending his associated research stay in Technical Chemistry I at the UDE. The focus will be on materials for catalysis.

Catalysts make our high standard of living possible, and the "Energiewende" would be inconceivable without them: They are essential in fuel cells, enable the green production of hydrogen and also its conversion into storable chemicals as an energy reservoir. For this purpose, catalysts have so-called "active sites": millions of tiny pores in the material into which precursors migrate. There, they convert into a product of interest – without a catalyst, this would happen more slowly, with more energy input, or simply not at all. Therefore, the active sites must be easily accessible and not blocked by foreign molecules.

Such pure nanoparticles for catalyst materials can be produced by high-energy laser pulses, as the team of Technical Chemistry I at UDE does. To further understand these processes and improve them accordingly, it is necessary to study the individual steps – but that is not possible even with high-tech methods in experiments; they just happen too quickly.

Leonid Zhigilei, on the other hand, simulates these steps with atomic resolution and calculates the ultrashort time scales: "We design theory and experiment together. That way, my simulations can show both dead ends and promising changes in advance."

Zhigilei is already cooperating with the Technical Chemistry I team led by Professor Stephan Barcikowski. As soon as the situation will allow, he is going to spend a longer period of time as a guest in the working group. "We do research in different fields, and that's exactly why our collaboration is so fruitful," says Zhigilei, explaining his decision to come to UDE after receiving the Humboldt Research Award. "We ask each other questions that the other would not have thought of."

The Humboldt Research Award is granted to leading researchers from all disciplines outside Germany. It recognizes their accomplishments and enables them to spend several months conducting research at an academic institution in Germany.


Image: Graphical representation of a bursting gold nanoparticle excited by ultrafast laser. The colors reflect the sizes of the resulting fragments: approx. 3 nm (red), approx. 1 nm (blue).

Further Information:
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stephan Barcikowski, Technical Chemistry I, +49 201/18 3-3150,

Editor: Birte Vierjahn, +49 203/37 9-2427,

Post-Views: 7506