Photo: Lars Svankjær/IDA

Leading catalysis researcher awarded Niels Bohr Gold Medal

Wednesday 03 Oct 18

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Jens Kehlet Nørskov
Professor
DTU Physics
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Professor Jens Nørskov receives the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, which has not been awarded to a Danish researcher since Niels Bohr received the award himself in 1955.

Since its creation in 1955, the Niels Bohr Medal has been awarded to a number of prominent researchers, the majority of whom have been Nobel laureates. On 7 October, HM Queen Margrethe of Denmark will award the medal to Professor Jens Nørskov from DTU Physics.

A Villum Kann Rasmussen professor, Jens Nørskov is the director of the new Catalysis Theory Center at DTU, which was set up to support his internationally cutting-edge research in the theory of catalysis.

“I’m extremely honoured and humbled by the award. It is a great honour and one which holds particular significance for me, as Niels Bohr created the basis for the quantum mechanical analyses that I use in my everyday research,” says Jens Nørskov.

"It’s all about being able to produce sustainable fuel for the transport sector—just as we need to be able to produce chemicals which provide the basis for manufacturing such different articles as plastics, fertilizer, cement, and medicine."
Professor Jens Kehlet Nørskov

The quantum mechanical analyses are part of the calculations Jens Nørskov performs in order to understand and anticipate how materials behave.

“In recent years, I have been particularly interested in how catalytic materials can help solve the major energy challenges facing society. We are good at utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but we still need to solve the problem of storing and transporting the energy derived from renewable energy sources. If my research can contribute to solving just a small part of the challenge, it will be fantastic,” he says.

Jens Nørskov’s vision is to develop a completely new energy technology whereby solar or wind energy, water, and CO2 can be converted into fuels and chemicals with the help of the right catalysts. This must be done using a cycle which does not emit more CO2 than it consumes.

“If we succeed, we will largely be able to maintain the welfare society and the benefits we know today. It’s all about being able to produce sustainable fuel for the transport sector—just as we need to be able to produce chemicals which provide the basis for manufacturing such different articles as plastics, fertilizer, cement, and medicine.”

Even though he acknowledges the considerable challenges of creating an entirely new energy technology based on sun, water, and CO2, Jens Nørskov, remains optimistic:

“We have already taken the first step, which is identifying the difficulties and their causes. Armed with this insight, we can now begin to develop solutions.”

Practical theorist
Jens Nørskov’s research is characterized by being very broad-ranging. As a theoretical physicist, he is recognized for having contributed with new basic insights, concepts, and models of catalysis.

Among other things. he introduced the concept of ‘scaling relations’ which provides an insight into fundamental limitations of a catalyst and which has formed the basis of a completely new field of research in surface physics and chemistry.

Indeed, when Jens Nørskov points to the highlights of his more than 40-year career as a researcher, it is the theoretical quantum leaps that spring to mind.

“The times when I was suddenly able to grasp a given relationship—not only in terms of individual results, but in relation to an entire class of issues—and, for example, when I discovered what properties make a material a good catalyst regardless of application,” he says.

Jens Nørskov’s concepts and models are currently being used as an important basis for understanding catalysis—both by researchers and the business community. His efforts, however, are not limited to theory, but also include close collaboration with companies that have been able to make use of his discovery of new materials which can be used as catalysts—among other things in energy production.

Photo: Lars Svankjær/IDA

The Niels Bohr International Gold Medal is awarded by the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) in cooperation with the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, the Carlsberg Foundation, and the University of Copenhagen.


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