Prof. Dr. Oliver Trapp appointed as MPG-Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA)

December 16, 2015
On December 1, 2015, Prof. Dr. Oliver Trapp from the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the University of Heidelberg was appointed as MPG-Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). With its fellowship program, the Max Planck Society (MPG) promotes the collaboration with excellent scientists from outside the Max Planck Institutes.

Oliver Trapp received his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Tübingen in 2001. From 2004, after a postdoctoral phase at Stanford University in California (USA), he initially headed an Emmy Noether Junior Research Group funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG) at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr. In 2008, Oliver Trapp was appointed to a professorship at the Organic Chemistry Institute of Heidelberg University. He also was awarded by the DFG with the important Heinz Maier Leibniz Prize.

His research aims in particular to a better understanding of catalytic chemical reactions at the molecular level. Investigation and analysis of large numbers of such processes is usually not only costly, but also very time-consuming. However, by combining the classical chemical analysis with means of modern information technology, Oliver Trapp succeeded to increase the efficiency and quality of such analyses enormously to examine as many reactions in short time.

"Using a barcode-controlled supply of samples, we are able to produce many chromatograms simultaneously, which then can be analysed," says Prof. Dr. Oliver Trapp. "In a defined time-period 50 times more samples can be explored."

By the wax, this so-called multiplexing gas chromatography is also very valuable for other kinds of analyses - for example as a tool to investigate mixtures of substances.

Of course, the study of processes at the molecular level is of fundamental importance for the understanding of procedures and necessary boundary conditions for the formation of building blocks of life. And this is where chemistry, biology and astrophysics come together: Since the discovery of the first planet around another star in 1995 thousands of so-called exoplanets were found. Meanwhile, also some planets have been detected where both their distance from the host star and their composition (rock) gives rise to talk of Earth-like planets.

"On the surface of such exoplanets in the so-called habitable zone, the appropriate temperatures and atmospheres might exist to accommodate liquid water," says Prof. Dr. Thomas Henning, Director of the Planet and Star Formation department at MPIA. "Such conditions would be a requirement for possible life forms - at least for kinds as we know from Earth so far."

However, the properties of life supporting conditions have to be explored experimentally to be able to classify correctly future astronomical observations such as spectra of exoplanet´s atmospheres. The interdisciplinary cooperation of experts is therefore of crucial importance and the appointment of Oliver Trapp as MPG Fellow at MPIA an important step into the future.
Cooperation in this field has been already around for some time. In March 2015, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, together with the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (MPIK), the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and the University of Heidelberg, started the new Heidelberg Initiative for the Origin of Life (HIFOL). 
HIFOL joins top researchers from Astrophysics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and the Life Sciences in order to promote, strengthen, and bundle the scientific studies of this – perhaps - most exciting field in space research. HIFOL was initiated by Thomas Henning and Oliver Trapp, who both also coordinate the network scientifically.

Further information:

Research Group of Prof. Oliver Trapp
Heidelberg Initiative for the Origins of Life (HIFOL)
MPIA-Press Release on the start of HIFOL

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