Two new ERC Starting Grants at RUB
New catalysers for target-specific drug manufacture
Improved security for the “Internet of Things”
Mirror image of a molecule has a different effect
By reducing the activation energy necessary for chemical reactions, which is frequently high, catalysts make it possible to perform those reactions under gentler conditions. Moreover, special catalysts can also affect the product distribution of a chemical reaction. This is particularly important in chiral molecules: i.e. in compounds that are for the most part identical, but which behave like image and mirror image. “Chiral compounds play a crucial role in the pharmaceutical industry: often, a chiral compound is the active drug component, whereas the mirror-image molecule exhibits no activity at all, or may even cause severe side effects, see Contergan,” explains Stefan Huber. Accordingly, an important objective within the field of organic chemistry is the development of catalysts which generate only one of the two mirror-image molecules in a chemical process at a time.
Using “halogen bonds” for catalysts
Most catalysts to date have been based on the formation of complete chemical bonds between substrate and catalyst. Most of the time, metal complexes would be used, which, however, have many disadvantages, i.e. toxicity and high cost. It wasn't until recently that weak (“non-covalent”) interactions have been deployed in catalysis; however, hydrogen bonds have been virtually the only ones used so far. In the course of a current project, the researchers want to utilise a barely used weak interaction for catalytic manufacture of chiral molecules for the first time: the so-called halogen bonds are formed between halogen atoms with regions of positive polarity (especially bromine and iodine) and suitable substances. An important foundation of the project is the synthesis of promising catalyst candidates, whose activity the researchers plan to subsequently analyse in test reactions. Moreover, they plan to use such halogen bond-forming molecules for splitting the composites of two mirror-image compounds in their respective pure forms. Ultimately, they wish to expand this catalysis principle to other weak interactions that have been barely studied to date. “We hope these catalysts will enable us to manufacture as yet inaccessible chiral molecules and test their pharmaceutical efficacy in the long term,” says Stefan Huber.
New analysis tools and security mechanisms for the “Internet of Things”
The team headed by Prof Dr Thorsten Holz plans to improve security in the “Internet of Things”. An increasing number of devices are connected to the Internet and are thus prone to manipulation and misuse. Under the umbrella of the project “Leveraging Binary Analysis to Secure the Internet of things – BASTION”, developers at the Chair for System Security are developing new analysis tools for software integrated in these devices, with the purpose of proactively finding potential vulnerabilities. In addition, they will design novel security mechanisms meant to protect such devices from attacks.
Tools to run on as many different devices as possible
A considerable challenge is making the new methods run on as many devices as possible. Because different manufacturers leverage different hardware architectures, no analysis mechanisms exist at present that can be applied to a broad range of devices. Therefore, Thorsten Holz’ team initially translates different software components into an intermediate language. To this end, the researchers transform the machine language of different hardware architectures into a joint intermediate language, and the actual analyses are implemented on that level. The translation is based on the so-called assembler instructions of the devices, i.e. short commands in the language of the processor such as “load four bytes from memory and write them into a specific intermediate memory.” Based on this intermediate language, new analysis and security mechanisms can be applied across all platforms.