The participants of the Ringberg Conference

The participants of the Ringberg Conference

In the first week of September, forty chemistry and AI experts from 15 countries, 15 different research institutions and 10 companies came to Ringberg Castle at Tegernsee, a conference venue of the Max Planck Society. They discussed current research trends in chemistry and provided insights into cutting-edge laboratory concepts. The conference was jointly organized by the CTC and Prof. Peter Seeberger’s department at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (MPICI) in Potsdam. As such, the week-long conference was much like a kick-off for the development of the CTC research program.

Insights into automated laboratories …

The conference started on Monday afternoon with an introduction by Peter Seeberger and an informal networking. Tuesday was filled with exciting presentations focusing on automation, machine learning and green chemistry. The morning session was opened by Prof. Peter Seeberger with an insight into the ideas behind the CTC. He was followed by Prof. Siegfried Waldvogel from Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz who explained how his group is electrifying organic synthesis. Dr. Leif Rohrbach from Carbon Minds continued with a presentation on product carbon footprints.

The short coffee break gave oppurtunity to continue the discussions, before Prof. Pascal Miéville, from the Swiss CAT+ West Hub project at Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, shared his insights on “Storms and Drones in a laboratory”. His work in catalysis automation and teaching digital chemistry is pushing the boundaries of discovery in chemistry. Dr. Paola Ferrini from GSK, gave a compelling talk on “Automation at GSK – Applications in Drug Development.” Finally, Dr. Felix Strieth-Kalthoff from Alán Aspuru-Guzik’s lab at University of Toronto, blew us away with his talk on “A Delocalized Self-Driving Lab for Organic Materials Discovery”. Their mission to accelerate materials discovery tenfold is a game-changer.

… scientific language modeling

After lunch, Prof. Bartosz Grzybowski, from the Polish Academy of Sciences and Institute for basic science (IBS), discussed “Algorithms and gigascale reaction networks for chemical industry.” His innovative approach reshapes chemical process planning. Following, Prof. Heng Ji from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign shared insights on “Knowledge-Empowered Scientific Language Modeling.” Her expertise in Natural Language Processing and interdisciplinary research is bridging the gap between language and chemistry. She was followed by Dr. John Bradshaw, a postdoc in the Coley Research Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who unveiled “Reaction Discovery: ML methods for predicting what will happen and what has happened!” Their efforts at the chemistry-data science nexus is propelling autonomous molecular discovery.

The late afternoon session started with two group leaders from MPICI: Dr. José Angel Danglad-Flores shared insights on “Redesigning an Automated Glycan Assembly Platform” and Dr. Eric Sletten offered valuable insights into “Automated Glycan Assembly: A Chemist’s Perspective”. Their expertise in automated glycan assembly is pushing the boundaries of molecular science. The last presentation of the day was given by Dr. Manuel Garcia Ricardo: “Merging Solid-Phase Peptide and Glycan Synthesis to Prepare Biomolecular Chimeras” His work bridges peptides and glycans, advancing biomolecular synthesis.

… renewable resources for innovative polymers

The third conference day was opened by Prof. Arne Thomas from Technische Universität Berlin with a presentation on “Unifying Systems in Catalysis.” His work, part of the innovative UniSysCat Cluster of Excellence, brings together experts from diverse fields to revolutionize catalysis research. Prof. Michael Meier from Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) followed with “New cellulose chemistry from a sustainability perspective: renewability is not enough.” His work uses renewable resources for innovative polymers and precision-designed architectures. Afterwards, Dr. Manuel Häußler from the MPICI delved into “Closing the Carbon Loop for Plastics.” His research is propelling the drive towards sustainable plastics production, closing the loop on carbon utilization.

After a short coffee break, Antonio LaPorte (University of Illinois), explored “Chemistry that machines can do.” His groundbreaking research pushes the boundaries of automated chemistry, showcasing the future of machine-driven chemical discovery. Dr. Michael Schneider from Chemspeed, discussed “Accelerating, Standardizing, Digitalizing the Transformation of Chemical Industry.” His insights shed light on how technology is revolutionizing the chemical sector, making it faster, standardized, and more digital.

…digitization of chemical research

The lunch was followed by another two representatives from industry: Dr. Hergen Schultze, Head of Data Analytics BASF, shared insights on “Towards autonomous research machines (with comments on data, information & knowledge)” and Dr. Sara Szymkuć (Allchemy) discussed “‘Computer-designed revalorization and controlled-degradation of chemical wastes.” Then, Carl Edwards (University of Illinois), presented “Language-Guided Scientific Discovery for Chemistry.” Finally, Prof. Tyler McQuade of On Demand Pharmaceuticals Inc discussed “Transforming the Generic Medicine Industry.” ODP’s mission to make affordable medications universally accessible is reshaping the landscape of healthcare.

The late afternoon session was opened by Dr. Divya Varadharajan, part of Reckitt, with an insight on “‘Consumer-driven optimization in chemistry” and followed by Dr. Joachim Dickhaut, representing BASF Agricultural Solutions, delved into the “Challenges of the (Agro)Chemical Industry.” His talk shed light on the evolving landscape of agrochemicals, addressing the complex challenges that shape the industry’s future. After him, Hannah Kortman from MPICI presented “Expedient Access to 3D Organoboron Heterocycles via Energy Transfer Catalysis”. Katharina Eisenhardt closed the day with a presentation on “Using Carbon Dioxide to make plastics.” Her work embodies sustainable innovation, showcasing how CO₂ can be harnessed for eco-friendly plastic production.

… printing tech with integrated additives

Thursday morning started with input from three PhD students: Sebastian Ronneberger from the MPICI presented the NanoFDM technology. His work is revolutionizing printing tech, enabling precise integration of additives. Then, Clara Scheelje from Michael Meier’s group at Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) presented on “Improving the sustainability of polyurethanes” and Lewis Mcghie from MPICI gave an insight in his research on innovative pathways to intricate organoboron structures. The session was closed by Dr. Sandhya Mardhekar from MPICI unveiling “Biomimetic Analogs of Cell Surface Proteoglycans”.

The second session of the day was opened by Marwin Segler from Microsoft Research who shared insights on “Machine Learning for Organic Synthesis and Molecular Discovery.” His research harnesses AI to revolutionize organic synthesis and expedite discovery. After him, Christian Haas from Agilent Technologies discussed “Transforming Chemistry: Analytical Chemistry as a Catalyst for Change.” His insights highlighted the pivotal role of analytical chemistry will have in digitalizing chemistry. Subsequently, Jakob Wolf from MPICI discussed the “Canonization of thioglycoside reactivity”. The academic part of the day was closed with an insight from Tobias Klement from CLIB – Cluster Industrielle Biotechnologie who demonstrated how CLIB drives innovation, uniting industry, academia, and SMEs to pave the way for a sustainable future in the three German lignite mining areas.

… and cooking oil transformed into valuable resources

In the afternoon, the insights presented during the last three days were further discussed during an excursion to the Bavarian Alps. Discussions and networking continued during the Bavarian dinner in the evening, a culinary feast with local food specialties like Sauerkraut, Brezeln and Schweinshaxn.

The last day of the conference gave another four researchers from MPICI the opportunity to present their latest result. First, Dimitrije Djukanovic from MPICI presented on the “Synthesis of Polyfunctional Amides, Ketones and Pyridines Using Organometallic Reagents in Continuous Flow and Batch”. After him, Juliana Cardenas gave insights in “A modified heteropolyacid as a phase-transfer catalyst for used cooking oil epoxidation with hydrogen peroxide.” Her research transforms cooking oil waste into valuable resources. Then, Sebastian Pinzon Lopez explored “Transport Phenomena in Automated Glycan Assembly.” His research delves into the complex world of automated glycan assembly, advancing our understanding of solid phase synthesis. Finally, Wei-Hsin Hsu closed the conference with a presentation on “Automated Flow Platform for the Optimization of Photochemical Liquid-Gas Reaction.” Her research highlights advantages of flow chemistry in photochemical multi-phasic reactions.

After five days, numerous participants expressed the feedback that this was one of the most diverse and intense conferences they have been able to attend. The seclusion on the Ringberg and the special atmosphere of the extraordinary conference venue – a castle completed only 50 years ago – certainly contributed to this.