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Prof Catharine Esterhuysen
September 12, 2019 @ 17:3018:30Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science
Intermolecular interactions: Insight into chemical properties
Intermolecular interactions are critical to life as we know it, as they are, for instance, the reason that water is a liquid at ambient temperatures and that which hold the strands of DNA together to make us unique. Yet, despite their importance to us, they are surprisingly poorly understood, as there are many factors that influence their behaviour. Investigating the nature and properties of intermolecular interactions is, therefore, vital to understanding the role that they play in a broad range of applications. In this paper, I will show how computational chemistry methods and structural analysis can be applied to obtain information about the strength and origin of some unusual interactions between molecules, demonstrating how factors such as electrostatics and electron transfer can affect how strongly two molecules are attracted to each other. Such knowledge can, in turn, provide important insights into the properties of compounds and materials. In processes such as sorption, for instance, the strength of intermolecular interactions, particularly those between the porous host framework and gaseous or liquid guests, can affect not only the amount of guest taken up into the framework as well as the rate of uptake, but also how well the guest will be retained by the host. This is especially valuable for explaining the origin of anomalous properties of materials, and with this knowledge new materials with improved performance can be designed.
Catharine Esterhuysen was born in Johannesburg to parents John and April Thompson, who were passionate about science and nature. Under their influence she already knew by the age of nine that she wanted to become a chemist, a goal that she followed single-mindedly through undergraduate and then postgraduate studies at the then Rand Afrikaans University. After completing a PhD in structural science under the supervision of Gert Kruger and Helgard Raubenheimer, she joined Stellenbosch University as a lecturer in 2000. During her PhD studies she developed a keen interest in computational chemistry thanks to the mentorship of Jan Dillen, which she was able to develop further when an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship allowed her to join the group of Gernot Frenking of Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany in 2002, and again during an Alexander von Humboldt follow-up fellowship working with Tim Clark at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen. Her main focus is now the study of intermolecular interactions, combining her knowledge of computational chemistry and crystallography to explain unusual interactions. She was co-editor of Acta Crystallographica E (2006–2012) and is currently the president of the South African Crystallographic Society. In this capacity she delivered a presentation on crystallography in South Africa at the opening ceremony of the International Year of Crystallography at UNESCO in Paris. In 2018 she was the first woman to be promoted to full professor level in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University, where she is a passionate teacher; she was awarded the Stellenbosch University Award for Excellence in Teaching: Distinguished Teacher Award in 2017. She is married to Matthias Esterhuysen, also a chemist, and is mother to Fleur and Sebastian.