The webinar on ‘Steps towards Life : Chemistry !” by Prof. John Marie Lehn, arranged by the School of Basic and Applied Science, Adamas University on 29.05.2020 was a grand success with more than 1000 participants from all over the country even in such difficult times. The occasion was illuminated by the presence of eminent scientists across all states. Faculty from different Institutes, students-undergraduate, post-graduate, research scholars, all participated with great enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1987, is at present, Professor at the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study (USIAS), Emeritus Professor at the University of Strasbourg and Honorary Professor at the Collège de France in Paris.
The audience was exposed to a two hour amazing deliberation on ‘Steps towards life : Chemistry !’. The starting point was the evolution of the Universe which involved a seamless merging of Physics into Chemistry into Biology along the time axis – right after the Big Bang ! According to him, mankind is a point in space and time and endowed with the ability to ‘think’ . It is with this ability that we have evolved towards gradually increasing complex entities. Evolution has been considered to be purely chemical. Self-organization is the process by which steps towards life and thought have emerged. Animate as well as inanimate matter, living organisms as well as materials, are formed of molecules and of the organized entities resulting from the interaction of molecules with each other. Chemistry provides the bridge and unravels the steps from the molecules of inanimate matter and the highly complex molecular architectures and systems which make up living and thinking organisms. Molecular chemistry has developed very powerful methods for constructing even more complex molecules from atoms. Supramolecular chemistry seeks to understand and control the formation of complex molecular assemblies. He brought in the concept of molecular recognition…in fact, life would not have existed without it. Molecular recognition unravels the mechanism of the formation of more complex molecular assemblies with desired molecular architecture for selected activity or targeted functionality. He has discussed how these molecular assemblies could function as various molecular devices. He highlighted on the lock and key arrangement which forms the basis of molecular recognition, reactivity and transport. His pioneering work on spherical recognition involving cryptands, tetrahedral recognition highlighting the complementarity in size and shape between ‘keys’ and the ‘lock’, deserves special mention.
He went on to the development of biologically active substances, which involve molecular recognition between a synthetic molecule and a biological target. He also emphasised on ‘biomaterials’ and their importance – for example, supramolecular polymers used in cardiovascular surgery, biocompatible and biodegradable materials, medical diagnostics.
Molecular recognition directed self organisation opens towards a constitutional dynamic chemistry which is able to modify the constitution of its objects, thereby leading to the novel concept of adaptive chemistry. According to Prof. Lehn, the essence of Chemistry is not just to discover and increase our knowledge bank, but also to create and realise the novel expressions of complex matter. In that sense, Chemistry is ‘Artistic’. He quoted Leonardo Da Vinci : “Where nature finishes to produce its own species, man begins, using natural things, in harmony with very nature, to create an infinity of species”. Thus, there will be a time in future where we may be shaking hands with machines that are
able to think and create further complex beings. That is, an approach towards the infinite, which till now, we are unable to define.
He concluded with a quote from the great German mathematician, David Hilbert “ We must know and we will know ”- an amazing realisation ! His lecture implies – Science shapes the future of humanity !