Bengt Nordén

Professor; Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Physical Chemistry

I would say that I am interested in everything: to think about how life was created – and if it happened outside the Earth – to how an electron moves in an atom or how an electrical field surrounding an ion may catalyze a chemical reaction. Even though all my research projects are curiosity driven in the area of fundamental science, there are almost always also some interesting practical application associated. Studies of how molecules are ordered in liquid flow gave us for example a method to study protein and DNA structure in solution, an invention which we now daily apply in the laboratory. Another example, investigations how various substances can cross a lipid membrane may lead to new strategies for delivery of drugs into living cells and so on.

The big grants received during 2008 (KAUST Award, Advanced Investigator ERC Grant and the Linné-center Bio-inspired Supramolecular Function and Design) have made it possible for me to start up projects that I earlier only had dreamt about. These projects encompass quite different kinds of problems but they are often approached with a common scientific approach: DNA is thus studied from both a biological point of view (e.g. new principles for recognition of long sequences, mechanisms for genetic recombination, gene therapy and transfection) as well as regarding how to use the DNA-base-pairing specificity and structural stability of the double helix to construct “addressable” two-dimensional networks for nano-technological applications (sensors, molecular electronics or nano-motors). Spectroscopy is another common basis of methodologies that we utilize to study structure and function for the molecular systems studied.
​When appointed professor of Physical Chemistry of Chalmers Bengt Nordén was for many years among the youngest Chair Professors in Sweden and had ample opportunities to build up an institution engaging young people that shared his broad interests, ranging from spectroscopy, photophysics and quantum chemistry, to molecular biology, biotechnology and medicine. He is harvesting the fruits of this interdisciplinary onset in various forms: serendipitous breakthroughs and a unique physical-chemical school at Chalmers with a world-renowned spectroscopic profile, to mention two. Being a generalist by virtue of both curiosity and training has been helpful when he has been in charge of major awarding systems, including the Nobel Prize. As a tracker of ground-breaking achievements he also in this role received continuous inspiration to new research directions.
Bengt Nordéns contribution to form a strong research school in Gothenburg has been successful: as many as 12 out of his about 50 former PhD students and postdocs have become professors, abroad or at other Swedish universities, and three have returned to contribute a forceful environment with their own profiles within the Department: Prof Bo Albinsson (femtosecond spectroscopy and fundamentals of electron transfer), Prof Per Lincoln (new transition-metal-based DNA ligands and statistical mechanics for gene targeting), Prof Björn Åkerman (fundamentals and applications of DNA physical chemistry). Regarding mentorship for young researchers, as former chairman of a final-selection committee for the ESF EURYI awards (ca 1 M EUR each) he was nominated president of an academy formed by the 100 eminent young researchers that have been awarded in total during this program. Dr Nordén is also the founder of the Molecular Frontiers Foundation, a global out-reach program for spreading interest for molecular sciences among the youth. Its Scientific Advisory Board consists of 27 top scientists from all over the world of whom nine are Nobel Prize Winners.
The coffee-room plays a central role when creating a creative research atmosphere – many ideas have been born out of lively discussions in a friendly environment. Being surrounded by other international recognized researchers such as Owe Orwar  and Bo Albinsson contributes to making the department a cross-disciplinary incubator for new collaborations and projects

Molecular Frontiers Foundation
Molecular Frontiers is a global effort to promote the understanding and appreciation of molecular science in society. 

Bo Albinsson
Owe Orwar

Elected to Academies:
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1991
The Royal Physiographic Society (Lund) 1992
The Royal Society of Arts and Sciences (Gothenburg) 1984
The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences 2005
Academia Europaea 2003
The National Academy of Sciences of Germany (Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina) 2006
The Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in Finland 2006
The Norwegian Academy of Sciences 2007
The Academy of Sciences and Letters of Finland (Societas Scientiarium Fennica) 2008
The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) 2009

In total about 100 plenary or named lectures and solicited review articles or book chapters
Honorary Anniversary Fellow of the Australian National University 1996
Honorary Professor of University of Sichuan in Chengdu 2006
Honorary Fellow of the Chemical Research Society of India 2009.
Honorary Fellow of the Chinese Chemical Society, 2009.
Visiting Scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge, 2009-
Prizes: The Fabian Gyllenborg's Prize for best PhD thesis in Lund, 1972 (the first time the prize was awarded).
The Goran Gustafsson's Prize for Chemistry 1992 (350,000 EUR, the second time the prize was awarded).
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Award of 2008, including a research grant of 10 M USD.
The Svante Arrhenius Gold Medal of 2009 (awarded every 5th year to a Chemist or a Physicist by the Academy)

Published: Tue 13 Sep 2011. Modified: Thu 28 Jan 2016