The Association “Amis de l’Université” conferred to Dr Emanuele Penocchio the best doctoral thesis award 2023 of the University of Luxembourg for his tremendous work on “Thermodynamics of chemical engines: A chemical reaction network approach”. More than 70 participants from academia and industry attended the ceremony on 12 July 2023 at the Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg. The Rolf Tarrach prize aims to reward excellence in the field of research and to promote the international reputation of the University of Luxembourg. It has been awarded since 2012, and the awardee receives 10,000€.
New generation of physical chemists
During his PhD, Emanuele Penocchio built a general thermodynamic level of understanding of chemical engines used by cells to function or by chemists to build new materials , complemented previous analyses based on kinetics and stochastic thermodynamics, and found practical implications for designing and improving artificial chemical engines , regardless of the particular type of powering or chemical structure. “I like to describe my thesis as the response to a 2016 Nature Nanotechnology editorial article where the journal advocated for a new generation of physical chemists able to connect supramolecular chemistry, the chemistry of molecules working together , to the out-of-equilibrium thermodynamic concepts being developed by theoretical physicists”, comments Dr Penocchio.
Emanuele Penocchio was trained as a chemist in Bologna and Pisa. He then joined the group “Complex Systems and Statistical Mechanics” led by Prof. Massimiliano Esposito at the University of Luxembourg. “When Emanuele applied for a PhD position in my group, he had unusually clear ideas about what he wanted to do. He was fascinated by molecular motors and pumps able to convert energy into movement at the nanoscale, and wanted to use the theoretical tools developed in my group to better understand them.”, explains Prof. Esposito.
Successful and impactful thesis on chemical engines
The whole thesis committee was impressed by comprehensiveness and interdisciplinarity of the thesis as well as by the scientific output. “Emanuele not only learnt our thermodynamic theory of chemical reaction networks. He extended it in ways that were essential to successfully apply it to supramolecular chemistry and biology. Thanks to his very good knowledge of the supramolecular literature, he conceived models to apply the theory and collaborated with two leading experimental groups in supramolecular chemistry, namely Prof. David Leigh in Manchester and Prof. Alberto Credi in Bologna”, says Prof. Esposito.
Dr Emanuele Penocchio presented his results at several international conferences in physics and chemistry and gave seminars at the University of Oxford, the Supramolecular Science and Engineering Institute in Strasbourg and the Pennsylvania State University. He also received the 2022 Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award and the shared international prize 2023 Royal Society of Chemistry Horizon Prize for Physical Organic Chemistry. “The number and interdisciplinarity of my dissemination activities reiterate the contribution of my thesis to the generation and communication of new ideas, tools, and knowledge, as well as its broad impact on several research communities, from theoretical physics to synthetic chemistry”, mentions Emanuele.
Since September 2022, Dr Emanuele Penochio has been working as postdoctoral researcher in the Gingrich Group at Northwestern University in Chicago.