Prof. dr. Sylvestre Bonnet

Professor of Chemistry


Prof. dr. Sylvestre Bonnet

Sylvestre Bonnet is Full Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry at Leiden University. He obtained his PhD in 2005 at the University of Strasbourg, France, in the group of Nobel Laureate Jean-Pierre Sauvage. He then moved to The Netherlands as a postdoc, where he successively worked in the groups of Gerard van Koten (Utrecht), Jan Reedijk (Leiden), and Antoinette Killian and Bert Klein Gebbink (Utrecht). Between 2009 and 2014 he completed a Tenure Track position in Inorganic Chemistry at Leiden University, where he was tenured in 2015 and became full professor in 2020. He obtained several prestigious grants, including a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (2013), and three young investigator grants (VENI 2008, VIDI 2012, VICI 2019) from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Since 2015 he is Fellow of the Young Academy of Europe, and in 2017 he became YAE Board Member. His expertise lies at the crossing point between bioinorganic chemistry, photochemistry, and lipid membranes. His current research interests are anticancer photoactivated chemotherapy, supramolecular photocatalysis, and upconversion.

Fundamental Research in Chemical Biology

Chemical biology research at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry is aimed at understanding biological processes at the molecular level to strengthen the knowledge base of human health and disease. The approach to achieve this goal is a fundamental chemical one; with the aid of chemical probes biological systems are interrogated.

This highly generalized description covers a range of chemical probes, both large and small, with which a number of biological systems varying in complexity are studied. Our panel of chemical probes include enzyme inhibitors and receptor ligands and application of these to a biological system, say a tissue culture or animal model (zebrafish), may influence metabolic pathways, leading to altered protein or metabolite levels. A more advanced class of enzyme inhibitors, known as activity-based probes, provide the means to covalently and irreversibly modify and tag their biological targets, which may then be identified and linked to the underlying physiological event, for example through proteomics approaches. Biological targets modified by activity-based probes can include proteins and metabolites. Another class of chemical probes that are central in our chemical biology research are those that can be attached to the desired biomolecule which then can be studied by means of various imaging techniques (biochemical techniques, NMR). Finally, biomolecules themselves or their synthetic mimics will be used in artificial systems designed to emulate biological systems. Supramolecular assemblies and biomaterials are used to manipulate physiological processes, for example to direct cell growth, and to develop new tools for targeted delivery of chemical probes.

The Leiden Chemical Biology research can be distinguished from chemical biology focus areas created at other Dutch Universities both in the nature of the tools and techniques aimed for and in the research objectives. With respect to the tools and techniques, these are designed and prepared through advanced synthetic organic chemistry, and our broad expertise in the design of enzyme inhibitors, activity-based probes, fluorescent labels and spin labels gives our chemical biology research a unique edge within the Netherlands. Our chemical biology research is conducted in the context of health and disease, and aims to acquire knowledge, tools and techniques for human medicine. Enzyme inhibitors or receptor ligands may become lead compounds in drug development whereas activity-based probes may evolve to become diagnostic tools to detect disease states and monitor the efficacy of therapeutic interventions. Next to this our fundamental studies on the interaction of biomolecules may deliver new insights into the molecular background of disease states. Using the different approaches at the molecular level we contribute to the development of new diagnostic tools and therapeutics, resulting in solutions for current disease states.


Fundamental Research in Energy & Sustainability

Twenty years from now, the world population is estimated to be around 9 billion people (now 8 billion). In combination with the improvements in living standards and the corresponding growth in consumption, this will result in an enormous increase in the demand for food, consumables, water and energy. Technological and fundamental chemical solutions to meet these demands are needed.

In the area Energy & Sustainability at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry research is focused on chemical reactions of importance to the sustainable and efficient production and storage of energy, as well as the subsequent usage of stored energy, on a fundamental level.

The Leiden research on Energy & Sustainability employs advanced spectroscopic techniques, nano-imaging, inorganic synthesis, and theoretical methods to elucidate the molecular processes that are at the basis of the conversion of solar energy to chemical energy. In addition, new catalysts, materials, and molecular and supramolecular systems are being developed and investigated, especially for cyclic redox chemistry of the hydrogen-oxygen cycle, with attention for the reversible storage of hydrogen, and for the carbon cycle, in which the sustainable and reversible conversion of carbon dioxide into a liquid carbon-rich fuel is a central challenge.

The ultimate aim is to make a fundamental contribution to a sustainable cyclic chemistry, which is efficient, scalable and robust.


Metals in Catalysis, Biomimetics & Inorganic Materials

MCBIM is the coordination and organometallic chemistry department at Leiden University.

Coordination chemistry is the chemistry of molecular metal-containing compounds. These small-molecule compounds are made of metal ions bound to well-defined organic ligands (such as polypyridyl or phosphine ligands), small molecules such as NO, CO, O2, OH2, and/or anions such as hydroxide or chlorides. Coordination chemistry research aims at understanding the relation between the chemical structure of a metal complex, and its biological, (photo)catalytic, or electrochemical properties.

Our chemistry usually starts with the design and preparation of new ligands with various steric and electronic properties and their binding to a metal center. Then we study the properties of this complex in simple model conditions to understand their chemistry. Finally, we put them in real catalytic or biological conditions, to see how they perform in real life applications. Our methods vary from synthesis, spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, to gas chromatography, cyclic voltammetry, or mass spectrometry, and finally cell viability studies, FACS, bioimaging, or even in vivo assays. We focus on their application for photo/electro/homogeneous catalysis, or as anticancer compounds or molecular sensor.

We are typically looking for PhD candidates with experience in molecular synthetic chemistry, catalysis, photochemistry, or chemical biology. Biologists with interest in new chemical technologies for the treatment of diseases are also welcome to apply.”