University of Bayreuth, Presse release No. 185/2022 - 11 November 2022

Light-emitting molecules as sensors of the future: University of Bayreuth graduate receives Bavarian Culture Award

Dr. Hannah Kurz, a graduate of the University of Bayreuth, has been awarded the Bavarian Culture Award in the field of science by Bayernwerk AG. She accepted the award at a festive evening event hosted by Bayernwerk on 10 November 2022 at the Eisbach Studios in Munich. The chemist, who is now a fellowship holder of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain, was honoured for her doctoral thesis on light-emitting sensor materials. The research was performed at the University of Bayreuth within the workgroup of Prof. Dr. Birgit Weber (Inorganic Chemistry IV). 

Award winner Dr. Hannah Kurz with the Bavarian Minister for Science and the Arts Markus Blume (left) and Bayernwerk CEO Dr. Egon Leo Westphal (right).

In her doctoral thesis, Dr. Hannah Kurz presents fundamental findings on the photoluminescence of molecules. The term photoluminescence describes processes in which a physical system is externally excited by light energy into an excited state and then returns to its ground state. The decisive factor here is that photons (light particles) are emitted during this return to the ground state. Materials that can absorb and emit a particularly large amount of light energy in a short time are called photoluminescent materials. They can be used in many areas, for example as catalysts, as emitter materials in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) or as sensors.

Dr. Hannah Kurz at the University of Cambridge.

Today, photoluminescent materials almost always contain transition metals such as platinum, iridium or ruthenium. However, these occur relatively rarely on earth and are therefore correspondingly expensive. In order to be able to increasingly use sunlight and other light sources as an energy resource for sensory applications in the future, it would therefore be advantageous to be able to replace the rare metals with commonly occurring metals such as iron, nickel or zinc. Here, however, the problem arises that in very many cases there is no emission of light energy as required by photoluminescent materials. This is the challenge addressed by the award-winning doctoral thesis. Dr. Hannah Kurz has been studying nickel and zinc complexes to see how they can be designed to make them suitable as photoluminescent sensor materials. "Photoluminescent materials offer outstanding opportunities for sensing applications because emission is very easy to detect with high accuracy," says award winner Dr. Hannah Kurz. She has succeeded in developing three systems, in which light sensitivity is coupled with photoluminescence. She has analyzed the photophysical and photochemical processes that take place in these systems using different measurement techniques and in cooperation with Dr. Gerald Hörner and Dr. Giovanni Li Manni through theoretical calculations, so that her research has significantly advanced the scientific understanding of photoluminescent sensor materials.

"These studies would not have been possible without the cooperation with excellent research groups within and outside the University of Bayreuth," says the Bayreuth award winner, referring to the collaboration with Prof. Dr. Anna Köhler (Experimental Physics), Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner (Macromolecular Chemistry) and Prof. Dr. Roland Marschall (Physical Chemistry) at the University of Bayreuth, as well as with Prof. Dr. Dirk Guldi at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg and Dr. Giovanni Li Manni at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. Due to her outstanding research achievements, Dr. Hannah Kurz received a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Since September 2022, she has been working as a postdoc in the research group of Prof. Dr. Jonathan Nitschke at the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

About the award:
Bayernwerk AG, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2022, honored a total of 33 graduates and doctoral students from Bavarian colleges and universities with a cultural award in the science category this year. The prizes are each endowed with 2,000 euros. All prize winners received the bronze statue "Gedankenblitz", sculpted by the Schwandorf sculptor Peter Mayer, at the award ceremony on November 10.

Dr. Hannah Kurz

Dr. Hannah Kurz

Department of Chemistry
University of Cambridge

Christian Wißler, Wissenschaftskommunikation

Christian Wißler

Deputy Press & PR Manager, Research Communication
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356