“Cologne and organocatalysis belong together”

University of Cologne awards Ben List an honorary doctorate

November 25, 2022

The University of Cologne has awarded Prof. Benjamin List an honorary doctorate in recognition of his achievements in the field of chemistry. The Mülheim based researcher expressed his gratitude for that special honor.

Ben List, director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, has been an honorary professor at the University of Cologne for around 18 years. Now the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences has awarded the Mülheim researcher an honorary doctorate - in recognition of his achievements in the field of chemistry, especially his pioneering work on enantioselective organocatalysis.

"Colleagues in chemistry have, of course, known for many years how successful you are," said Prof.  Paul van Loosdrecht, Dean of the Faculty. "Then, since last year, when you were awarded the Nobelprize in Chemistry, some non-chemists have also realized it." Van Loosdrecht stated he is very proud that List is part of the cologne faculty. Until now, List has accompanied more than 30 PhD students to their doctorates at the University of Cologne.

Prof. Axel Freimuth, rector of the University, emphasized how rarely the university awards honorary doctorates. "Your achievement deserves the highest respect,” he said. “You have kept a promise that science has made to people: you have explored unknown areas and improved the world with your findings." He called List is a role model for the students, but also for the researchers and teachers at the University.

List’s research had an impact on the University of Cologne

He can still remember when he first read Ben List's work on the proline-catalyzed aldol reaction, said Prof. Hans-Günther Schmalz, who gave the laudatory speech. "Ben List has laid a foundation with this work," he said. List's research has also had a major impact at the University of Cologne, he said - the Rhine River has been quite a site of intensive research on organocatalysis in recent years and decades. "Cologne and organocatalysis - they simply belong together," Schmalz said happily.

List expressed his gratitude for the honor bestowed upon him in his keynote address. "This is really a big deal for me," he admitted. List completed a short ride through the history of catalysis in front of the approximately 600 students. He said that during his university time people were convinced that that there were only two types of catalysts: metal-based or enzyme catalysts.

List also ventured a glimpse into the future, speaking about his dream reaction - the "essence of photosynthesis." "Wouldn't it be fantastic," List asked his audience, "if you could split CO2 into carbon and oxygen using only light and the ideal catalyst?" Such a reaction would have solved to big challenges of humankind - the demand for carbon as a feedstock as well as slowing global warming. List expressed his hope that this vision might also be an incentive for the many young chemists sitting in the Cologne auditorium that evening.

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