The Loss of a Prominent Scientist: Detlef Schröder


  • Dr. Zdenĕk Havlas

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry v.v.i. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Flemingovo nám. 2, 166 10 Prague 6 (Czech Republic), Fax: (+420) 220183299
    • Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry v.v.i. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Flemingovo nám. 2, 166 10 Prague 6 (Czech Republic), Fax: (+420) 220183299
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Schröder Special Issue: This collection of papers is dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague Detlef Schröder, who we honor with this selection of top-quality science.

This Special Issue is dedicated to the memory of a great scientist, Detlef Schröder, who passed away tragically while working in his laboratory as a consequence of a pulmonary embolism. A few days later, during the EuCheMS congress in Prague in August 2012, we agreed to publish a Special Issue of ChemPlusChem to honor one of its most enthusiastic Editorial Board members, our excellent colleague, and friend. Numerous colleagues would have liked to contribute but their submissions did not fit the multidisciplinary scope of ChemPlusChem. These contributions will appear elsewhere, and a selection is listed in the following editorial by Deputy Editor, Dr. Marisa Spiniello.

Detlef Schröder was born on June 24, 1963 in Wilster, which is located in the northern part of Germany. He studied chemistry at the Technische Universität Berlin, where he earned his PhD with honors in 1989 under the supervision of Professor Helmut Schwarz. Detlef continued working as a scientific researcher in Berlin until 2006 and obtained his Habilitation from the same university in 2007. In 2006, he accepted an invitation from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Czech Academy of Sciences, in Prague (IOCB) and started to build a new scientific team, which he headed with great inspiration and motivation. He was promoted to Distinguished Chair of the IOCB in 2011—a very special and also the highest possible position in the Institute intended for the most significant scientific figures (following in the footsteps of two excellent scientists of the Institute, Antonìn Holý and Pavel Hobza). Detlef was elected a member of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic in the same year.

Detlef was one of the leading scientists in gas-phase ion chemistry. Although he mainly worked in the field of mass spectrometry, he always stressed that by training he was an organic chemist with a strong background in synthesis. His interests were quite broad, ranging from basic properties of diatomic molecules, organic reaction mechanisms, catalysis, inorganic chemistry, astrochemistry, and biochemistry. His idea was to span the gap between gas-phase and condensed-phase chemistry. While working in the Schwarz laboratory, Detlef contributed to the two-state reactivity concept, the neutral-ion dissociation difference method for the investigation of neutral transient species, C[BOND]H bond activation by metal and metal oxides, and remote functionalization. During his time in Prague, he mainly focused on approaching condensed-phase chemistry by exploiting mass spectrometry. Specifically he was interested in ion salvation, behavior of simple inorganic salts in different solvents, ion pairing, solvation of large organic ions, and gas-phase chemistry of contact ion pairs. Detlef resolved the previous controversy about the mechanism of pseudo-epimerization of Tröger bases and showed the importance of palladium clusters in Suzuki–Miyaura coupling. In recent years he used the ion mobility technique for solving structural questions concerning organic ions and metal complexes. To understand the differences between gas-phase and condensed-phase chemistry, he investigated the chemistry of superelectrophiles. After discovery of bond-forming reactions in dications, he developed a complete theory concerning the growth of larger hydrocarbons in interstellar environment and extraterrestrial ionospheres that was based on the reactivity of medium-sized hydrocarbon dications. He always strived to answer fundamental questions, and he did it with elegant simplicity of thought—an approach which is at the disposal of only the best scientists who have superb knowledge of the entire field of chemistry.

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Detlef published about 400 original articles in top-ranking chemistry journals, and these have been cited about 8000 times. It seemed effortless for him to articulate chemical ideas and carry out the corresponding experiments, then express his findings in scientific writing. Likewise, he found it easy to hand-down his knowledge and motivate students, co-workers, and collaborators. This he demonstrated when he prepared his ERC advanced grant for which he created, and later managed, a large and smooth working scientific network. Detlef never limited his activity to his laboratory, but always served the whole community. He was an excellent reviewer, being both rigorous and fair. He became the vice-chair and later the chair of the physical chemistry panel of the Czech Grant Agency, and he significantly contributed to the changes that made awarding grants a more transparent process. Detlef was valued as member of evolution committees and external examination committees in countries such as France, Germany, and Italy. Since 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry, and since 2012 he was on the Editorial Board of ChemPlusChem.

Detlef was honored as the recipient of several awards (unfortunately not enough as his life was too short). He received the “Schüler experimentieren” award in 1979, ”Jugend forscht“ award in 1981, Mattauch-Herzog-Award from Finnigan-MAT GmbH in 1997. Also, before he passed away he received the newly introduced Rudolf Lukes Prize from the Czech Chemical Society: an award that honors excellent results in organic, bioorganic, and medicinal chemistry. This inaugural award was given first to a German citizen, therefore illustrating how much Detlef influenced and impressed the people around him.

When I learned that Detlef intended to move from Berlin to Prague (in order to follow his wife, Dr. Jana Roithová), I persuaded him to join the IOCB, even though his chemistry was slightly outside the main themes of the Institute. But the greatness of an institute is based on the quality of its scientists, and Detlef was instrumental in the tremendous improvement of the Institute’s image and future outlook. In just a short time, Detlef’s group became one of the most productive and he positively influenced the life of the Institute. He spent time in endless discussions about chemistry and life with all of his colleagues at the Institute. Conversations with him were always full of inspiration and his engaging humor made every complicated question much easier to debate. Even now, the vitality of Detlef’s spirit is still present.

Detlef was not only an inspirational scientist, but also a wonderful human being, full of love towards other people, and especially to his family. He was a proud father and loving husband as affirmed by Jana Roithová:

I feel very lucky that I was Detlef’s student, colleague, and also his wife. Living and working with Detlef was demanding, but we were both very happy. Detlef was often singing, not only alone in a car, but also everywhere else. As creative as he was in research, he also greatly enjoyed playing with our son. He was excellent in making huge constructions from Lego, or building castles from cardboard. He loved cooking, and we were spoiled by the cuisine he prepared for us. I loved his bright perceptions and refined sense of humor, and I was proud of his principled manners. Everything seemed so easy by his side. We miss him terribly, but still we are happy that we had the chance to be with him even for such a short time.

Dr. Lubomir Rulisek and Professor Pavel Jungwirth, his colleagues from the IOCB also appreciated the combination of professional excellence and humanity of Detlef’s personality:

The name of Detlef’s ERC Advanced Grant directly referred to building bridges between chemical domains, mainly between chemistry in the gas and condensed phases. We are convinced that already today this project may be evaluated as successfully completed, because Detlef managed to build many bridges between the individual directions of the research implemented not only at the IOCB, but also at other academic institutions in the Czech Republic and abroad. Unwittingly, he thus also built bridges between our scientific lives, for which we are grateful and thankful to him. Through the gravitation of his mind, Detlef inspired those of us around him to attempt emulation of him. Coincidentally, emptiness and gravity are evoked within us by the sudden appearance of a black hole in the space around us. Detlef, we will all miss you greatly!

Please join with me to honor Detlef’s memory.

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Dr. Zdenĕk Havlas Guest Editor

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