Marcel Swart - Biography#

Marcel Swart became ICREA Professor at the Institute of Computational Chemistry and Catalysis (IQCC) of the University of Girona in 2009; with this prestigious position he joined a select group of scientists, for which the selection is based solely on scientific excellence and leadership. He is the Director of the IQCC institute, member of several university committees, board member of a Catalan research network, and Founding Member and Vice-President of the Quantum Bio·Inorganic Chemistry Society (QBIC) Society.

He received his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry in 2002 under the supervision of Herman Berendsen, Gerard Canters and Jaap Snijders in a joint Unilever-NWO project on copper proteins. Right from the time of his PhD studies, Professor Swart was placed uniquely by bridging fundamentals of biophysics and theoretical chemistry in both, theory and experiment. This rare combination enabled him to develop this widely applied technique, for example, for studying catalytic oxidation processes of inert hydrocarbon molecules including cyclohexane, methane, and others in the presence of metal catalysts that can make these processes more selective and/or more reactive.

Professor Swart developed a new and advanced theoretical chemistry modelling method that allowed scientists to address, the reactivity and properties of transition-metals such as iron, manganese and copper accurately for the first time. His work paved the way to study such earth-abundant metals for sustainable homogeneous catalysis by means of computational chemistry which is important because they are responsible for the most important processes in our bodies (e.g. respiration, photocatalysis). The importance of this work is demonstrated through the application of his modelling techniques to processes that take place when transforming greenhouse gases into useful chemical building blocks or to compounds to reducing oxidative stress in human brains (e.g., ageing, Alzheimer’s disease).

Professor Swart’s research also revealed the real reactivity of a metallofullerene, which have been claimed to be the next ‘wondermaterial’ in nanomedicine. His theoretical findings were the first to show that metallofullerenes are in fact far too reactive for the safe use in the human body. Unlike previous reports, his work showed that the reactivity of a bond could not be predicted only based on the bond length, out-of-plane angle or molecular orbitals. Instead all bonds within a fullerene case must be considered in order to understand the reactivity of the molecule. He also corrected the assignment of the structure of another fullerene (which was based on a symmetric signal in a NMR spectrum) to a totally different structure.

Moreover, Professor Swart showed that the oxidation state of iron in a scandium-capped iron-oxygen species should be revised to +3, and predicted parameters for Mössbauer spectroscopy. Two years later, these findings were fully corroborated by experiments conducted by the Lawrence Que/Eckard Münck laboratories (two of the pioneers in bioinorganic chemistry, and potential Nobel Prize winners), for both the oxidation state and the Mössbauer parameters that came out on top of Prof Swart’s predicted values.

He was awarded the ICREA Junior fellowship in 2006, received the Molecular Graphics and Modelling Society Silver Jubilee Award in 2012 and was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2015.

Professor Swart is also involved in Science Policy, having served as Chair of the Young Academy of Europe from January 2017 to November 2018, is member of the External Scientific Advisory Board of Foster Plus and is member of the Higher Education, Research and Culture in European Societies (HERCulES) group.

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