At the supramolecular level


Nicolas Zigon is originally from France – he took a detour via Japan to Germany. At the University of Würzburg, the postdoc studies supramolecular systems at the Institute of Organic Chemistry.

Since 2016, Humboldt fellow Nicolas Zigon has been doing research in the lab of the University of Würzburg's Institute of Organic Chemistry. (Photo: Lena Köster)

Put simply, molecules are electrically neutral particles consisting of one or more atoms. These atoms are held together by chemical bonds. They can be observed under a spectroscope which makes particle beams of electrons, ions, atoms and molecules visible.

Molecules may consist of one single chemical element such as oxygen, also known as O2. Or a molecule can be made up of a group of atoms of different elements as is the case with water, H2O.

Supramolecular chemistry

Just like atoms bond to form molecules, the molecules themselves may also create larger structures, the so-called supramolecular complexes. "In the lab, I investigate how the individual molecular building blocks dock to each other, for example with which side and at what angle," Dr. Nicolas Zigon explains. Since August 2016, he has been doing research at the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Würzburg endowed with a Humboldt Research Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers.

"We want to get a better understanding of how molecules interact," says the doctor of chemistry. To achieve this, supramolecular chemistry examines for example the protein complexes formed during photosynthesis.

A Frenchman in Japan

Nicolas Zigon is originally from the French town of Thionville near Luxembourg. After he had finished school, Nicolas studied chemistry in Metz, the capital of Lorraine. Having completed his bachelor's programme, he moved to Strasbourg for his master's degree and PhD.

After that, the young chemist was drawn to Japan. Why Japan? "I wanted to get to know a new culture," Nicolas Zigon explains. Once in Japan, he was confronted with menus he could not read and a lot of Japanese who did not speak a word of English. "This led to some funny situations," he remembers.

From Japan directly to Würzburg

After two years, Zigon finally decided to leave Japan and he applied for a Humboldt Fellowship. "I had preferred Würzburg all along," the scientist says. "The university is famous for its good laboratories beyond German borders." The Humboldt Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers will allow him to continue his research activities until July 2018.

He does not see any differences between his university in Strasbourg and the University of Würzburg, as the laboratories are quite similar. There is, however, one major difference between the two institutions: "Everyone speaks German here," Nicola adds laughing. But that is not really a problem for the French scientists: He already learned German at school for seven years. While still in Japan, he prepared for Würzburg: "To refresh my German, I watched a lot of series and I still watch German TV for at least one hour in the evening."

He has been in Würzburg for more than a half year now and he enjoys living in the university town. When he is not busy hiking to Randersacker, he likes to do something with his co-workers from the chemistry lab or he joins courses at the University of Würzburg's Sports Center. He is fond of the city: "Würzburg is very beautiful with the fortress on the hill surrounded by vineyards."

Career goal: professor

Zigon already knew as a schoolchild that he wanted to be a scientist. "As a child, I always imagined changing the world with science," he says smiling. Having fulfilled his dream of becoming a scientist, he has already made plans for his future, too. "I would like to teach as a professor at university," the French postdoc says.

But he does not yet know where precisely. Being close to his family has become more important to him after a long time abroad. He already collected first experiences with teaching while doing his PhD. "The students were very nice and it feels good to pass on knowledge," the postdoc says.