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"Leonardo da Vinci" Award of the European Academy of Sciences

Vincenzo Balzani

by Prof. Nick Serpone

V Balzani

In recognition for his many outstanding contributions to the development of major branches of chemistry that include Photochemistry, Supramolecular Chemistry, and Molecular Nanotechnology.

Prof. Balzani has had a most remarkable and distinguished career recognized for his mentoring undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows for which he was awarded the 2013 Nature Award for Mentoring in Science, and for his research of the photochemical and photophysical properties of coordination compounds with judicious formation of supramolecular structures, studies that rapidly grew a) into investigations of luminescent and redox-active oligonuclear complexes in which the electronic energy created by light excitation could be channeled in any desired part of the supramolecular structure through suitable choice and positioning of various components, (b) into investigations of host-guest systems in which photochemical and photophysical properties of both partners could be strongly affected by their mutual interaction, (c) into investigations of the interactions of chromophoric units present in catenanes and rotaxanes, and (d) most importantly studies into the photochemistry of supramolecular systems that encompassed the design of photochemical molecular devices capable of performing useful light-induced functions. Indeed, Balzani is recognized as a world leader in the design, construction, and characterization of molecular-level devices and machines using the bottom-up approach toward Nanotechnology. The innovative aspect of this activity was the notion that the concept of macroscopic devices could be extended to the molecular level, and that it was possible to design supramolecular systems that, upon stimulation with external energy stimuli such as UV/Visible light, are capable of performing a variety of specific functions: (i) systems for information processing (e.g., wires, switches, antennas, plug/socket systems, extension cables, memories, logic gates, encoder/decoder, rudimentary neuron-like systems), (ii) devices that when powered by chemical energy or electrochemical energy or by light exhibit machine-like behavior (e.g., piston/cylinder systems, shuttles, lifts, rotary rings, dendritic photo-switchable boxes), and (iii) components for artificial photosynthetic systems.

He has illustrated the state-of-the-art in the above-mentioned fields and has proposed several guidelines for future achievements in his many review articles and books. Balzani is indeed a pioneer in the field of molecular machines, a field of Chemistry and Materials Science that was recognized by the Nobel Committee as being of such significance as to award the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to two of his closest collaborators (Profs. Stoddart and Sauvage). His views on Molecular Nanotechnology have been illustrated in two of his co-authored books: Molecular Devices and Machines - A Journey in the Nano World (Wiley-VCH, 2003) and Molecular Devices and Machines - Concepts and Perspectives for the Nanoworld (Wiley-VCH, 2008). He is a member of several National and International Academies, most notably a member of the oldest (1603) of National Academies, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy). He is also the recipient of several Prizes, Honorary Degrees, and Awards: to mention a few we note the 1988 Cannizzaro Gold Medal, the 1994 European Prize for Research and Innovation, the 2000 Porter Medal for Photochemistry, the 2002 Prix Franco-Italien de la Société Française de Chimie, the 2009 Galileo Prize for Scientific Literature, the 2009 Blaise Pascal Medal from the European Academy of Sciences, and the Grand Prix 2016 from the Fondation de la Maison de la Chimie (Paris). In 2006 he was appointed a Grand Officer (Cavaliere) of the Italian Republic for Scientific Merit. Lately, Balzani's major focus has been his long-standing interest on energy issues, chemical education, and on the role of science in society as he has always maintained that scientists have the great responsibility and duty to educate citizens and to assist decision makers in finding solutions to pressing societal problems. Accordingly, it is most befitting for the European Academy of Sciences to grant the 2017 Leonardo da Vinci Award to Prof. Vincenzo Balzani.

* * Lecture * *

"Chemistry and Creativity"

Creativity is a basic feature of Science. Like in many other fields, creativity in chemistry results from recombining old materials with a new design in mind. In recent years, chemists have learnt to operate like engineers, with the ambitious task of using molecules to make devices and machines of nanometric size. Several molecular level systems have indeed been designed and constructed that are capable of performing functions like those performed by devices and machines of the macroscopic world. Such systems are often obtained starting from “old” molecules whose well-known properties are exploited by novel ideas coming from nanoscience and nanotechnology.
This lecture will illustrate the working principles of photochemical molecular devices for information processing, with examples of memories, logic gates, and encoding/decoding systems, and the operational mechanisms of light-powered molecular machines, with examples of shuttles and switchable boxes.

[1] V. Balzani, A. Credi, M. Venturi Molecular Devices and Machines – Concepts and Perspectives for the Nanoworld, Wiley-VCH, 2008. [2] V. Balzani, P. Ceroni, A. Juris Photochemistry and Photophysics: Concepts, Research, Applications, Wiley-VCH, 2014.

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