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  2. Abstract

Invited for the for the front cover of the Cluster Issue on Water Oxidation Chemistry is the Helios group at the University of Padova, fostering a new research impetus on solar fuels by a collaborative synergy among catalysis, organometallic, mechanistic, and materials science experts. The cover image shows the novel dicarbene iridium(III) complex and oxygen evolution as a result of its catalytic action under visible light irradiation. This is one key goal of the HELIOS strategic project, targeting new molecules and nanomaterials for solar energy schemes, as represented by the fullerene sunflower logo. Dr. Rami Al-Oweini (ITM-CNR Postdoctoral Fellow) is acknowledged for his creative design and for putting together the cover illustration.

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What prompted you to investigate this topic?

Artificial photosynthesis is the Holy Grail of energy research. Despite a massive research effort in the area, scientists are still far from reproducing the same wonder of the natural machinery. At the heart of it is the oxygen-evolving center of the PSII enzyme, which powers the oxygenic life on earth. This is a unique catalyst, whose perfection of structure and function has inspired the recent research of the nano- and molecular catalysis group in Padova. Any new progress towards solar fuels is of paramount importance for a possible sustainable future. Our mission is to make it real. For this reason, we have teamed up with photochemists (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 11104), supramolecular and nanomaterials experts (Nature Chemistry, 2010, 2, 826; ACS Nano 2013, 7, 811–817), and computational scientists (PNAS 2013, 110, 4917), as needed to face the highly interdisciplinary challenges of this research. This new work has its roots within organometallic N-heterocyclic carbene synthesis, iridium chemistry, water oxidation catalysis, and EPR studies. Knowledge and expertise in all these fields was available within the research groups in Padova, and the first experiment was planned in the famous “Chemistry Bar” just across the department building. We thank the “spritz aperitif” for helpful suggestions and happy time.

How did the collaboration on this project start?

The collaboration started in the frame of HELIOS (Highly Efficient Light Interactions with Organized molecular Systems), a strategic project launched in 2008 by the University of Padova. The idea of gathering a whole Department of Chemistry around the central theme of solar energy capture, conversion, and storage has stimulated new concepts and knowledge through an effective merging of different scientific backgrounds and expertise. The final aim of the project is the development of functional molecular structures to be used in the energy sector, and in particular for artificial photosynthesis and bulk-heterojunction photovoltaic cells.

In one word, how would you describe your research?

In short, “Innovative Catalysis for Solar Fuels”.

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