Guests from Mülheim learning our pKa measurement method

Starting from last week the Analytical chemistry group of University of Tartu has the pleasure to host Dr Monika Lindner and Hendrik van Thienen from the group of professor Benjamin List – a worldwide known guru in the field of strongly acidic catalysts working at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung (Mülheim, Germany).

The purpose of their stay is to learn our pKa measurement method and set it up in Mülheim. This is the logical continuation of our group’s collaboration with the List group – the pKa values of a number of their catalysts have been measured here at Tartu (see Nature Chemistry 2018, 10, 888-894 and Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 1411-1415) – and we are glad that our pKa measurement method thereby gains even wider acceptance than it has now. We wish Monika and Hendrik all the success in learning the measurements!

(On the photo, from left: Märt Lõkov, Monika Lindner and Hendrik van Thienen)


UT Analytical chemistry at Suprachem 2019: From receptor synthesis to ion-selective electrode

During 24-26.02.2019 the Suprachem 2019 conference took place at University of Würzburg (Germany). The UT Analytical chemistry chair was represented by two posters: Optimization of the reaction pathway for the synthesis of substituted 1,3-bis(carbazolyl)urea anion receptors by Alo Rüütel and Mihkel Ilisson and From receptor-anion binding ladder to ion-selective electrode by Kerli Martin, Sandip A. Kadam, Ulriika Mattinen, Johan Bobacka and Ivo Leito.

Synthesis of 1,3-bis(carbazolyl)urea based anion receptors

The presentation from Alo and Mihkel focused on optimization of the synthesis route of anion receptors (ionophores) based on the 1,3-bis(carbazolyl)urea building block, augmented with additional amide functionalities (see the poster). The developed synthesis route is very valuable for the synthesis of a wide variety of analogous receptors (ionophores) that have previously been demonstrated to bind carboxylates with high affinity (see K. Martin et al, Eur. J. Org. chem. 2017, 5231-5237).

First solid contact acetate electrodes using receptor molecules

Kerli Martin et al present the first practical application of such receptors: a solid-contact acetate-selective electrodes. For acetate anion the electrodes show linearity over the activity range of 10-4.50 – 10-1.10 with a sub-Nernstian slope of -51.3 mV per decade and a detection limit of 10-5.00. The anion-selectivity pattern of these electrodes deviates markedly from the pattern found in DMSO solution and from the Hofmeister pattern. The selectivity coefficients of SCN, I, NO3 and Br decrease by 3-5 orders of magnitude when adding the studied ionophore to the membrane. The selectivity coefficients of hydrophilic anions such as Cl, F, HPO42–, and SO42– are significantly lower than in case of the ionophore-free control membrane. All in all, it is clear that a lot of work is still needed for improving the selectivity of the electrode.
This work has been accepted for publication: K. Martin et al Electroanalysis 2019 (the link will work soon).

The combined contributions from our group stood out from the majority (the conference altogether had 27 oral and 111 poster presentations) by a clear line of development from fundamental research (receptor design) to highly practical application (ion-selective electrode).

(Photos: above left: Mihkel Ilisson explaining his work to Dr Diane Smith from Wiley; right: Poster by Kerli Martin et al)


New type of pKa – biphasic pKa in octanol water system

It is not frequent that a new quantitative measure of some physicochemical characteristic is introduced. Recently our group managed to do exactly that by introducing a novel approach – termed as biphasic pKa values – of measuring the acidity/basicity of lipophilic compounds embedded in water-immiscible media (membranes or solutions) at equilibrium with aqueous solution.

In this approach, the H+ ion activity is determined in the aqueous phase, while the concentration ratio of protonated and deprotonated forms of acid/base is measured in the lipophilic phase with any suitable technique. The approach has been demonstrated on the example of biphasic pKa values of some lipophilic indicator bases in the octanol: water system, measured using UV-Vis spectrophotometry. The counterion identity and concentration, as well as the overall ionic strength in the aqueous phase, are included in the standard state definition.

This work has been published S. Selberg, S. Tshepelevitsh, I. Leito Croat. Chem. Acta 2018, 91, (4) and will form a part of the PhD thesis of Sigrid Selberg.

Biphasic pKa values are envisaged to be useful for characterizing lipophilic indicators, synthetic receptors, phase transfer catalysts and other implements that are used in hydrophobic media (e.g. in sensor membranes) in contact with water.

This work is part of a larger endeavor – to promote a wider usage the unified pH scale (pHabs) by the research and technology communities, which is currently in progress via the UnipHied.

The UnipHied project is funded from the EMPIR programme (project 17FUN09) co-financed by the Participating States and from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

(On photo: Sigrid Selberg)

Eurachem 2019 workshop: Validation of targeted and non-targeted methods of analysis

Our group is proud to be the leading organiser of the 2019 Eurachem General Assembly and the accompanying scientific workshop “Validation of targeted and non-targeted methods of analysis”!

The Workshop will take place in Tartu (Dorpat conference centre) on May 20th and 21st. The programme of the workshop, as well as registration and abstract submission are available at the event website:

The workshop addresses the current status of analytical method validation in general and specifically validation of the non-targeted methods (i.e. ones where the analyte is not defined beforehand). Non-targeted methods are an especially noteworthy part of the workshop programme, because their validation involves specific issues (since analyte is not known it is not possible to make validation experiments with it) and is significantly less developed than validation of targeted methods (i.e. the “normal” analytical methods, where the analyte is known beforehand). At the same time non-targeted methods are becoming increasingly important in environmental protection, food safety, different omics areas, etc.

Some example topics of the workshop are: Validation of targeted methods: where are we? Validation of non-targeted methods – differences from targeted methods. Detection of a multitude of (unknown) components in complex samples: criteria for identification. Managing the huge amounts of complex data from non-targeted methods. Software solutions for validation.

Compact overview of the workshop can be found in the 2nd circular.

These events mark the 30th anniversary of Eurachem and are jointly organized by Eurachem and ECAC (University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology and the Estonian Environmental Research Centre).

We are hoping to see many of you in Tartu in May!


EACH programme at the Sample Treatment 2018 Conference!

On Dec 3, 2018, Ivo Leito gave a presentation at the Sample Treatment 2018 conference (Caparica, Portugal) about the Excellence in Analytical Chemistry (EACH) Erasmus Mundus master’s programme that is coordinated by our group.

The focus of the talk was sample preparation and how is it included in the EACH programme. A key feature of the presentation was a question to the participants as for what else could/should the EACH programme contain in terms of sample preparation, especially keeping in mind emerging techniques. Another one was a call to come to teach at EACH as visiting scholar. During the subsequent coffee breaks a number of people approached Ivo and interesting ideas were proposed as to what to include into the programme’s set of covered sample preparation approaches (dialysis, different microextraction techniques, sonication, etc). Several people also expressed interest to contribute to the programme as visiting scholars.

Call of applications to the EACH visiting scholar scheme is constantly open at the EACH Visiting scholars page and submitting of application is non-binding, so it is encouraged also if you are not yet sure whether you will come.

We are thankful to all participants for their feedback and ideas!


The biggest development of the SI system in decades!

Today, On Nov 16, 2018 the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) unanimously decided to fundamentally remake the SI system of measurement units. Perhaps the most important change is that the kilogram will not be defined via a physical artefact – the platinum-iridium cylinder – but in terms of the Planck constant. As a result, for the first time the entire SI system will be defined entirely on the basis of fundamental constants, which has been the aim for decades!

The change will become effective on the 2019 World metrology day – May 20, 2019.

More information can be found in the post CGPM votes unanimously to change the SI by Dr Steve Ellison at the Eurachem website.

(Image: Wikipedia)


UnipHied EMPIR Network at Baltic Electrochemistry Conference 2018

On Nov 05, 2018 Ivo Leito gave a presentation Unified pH about the pan-European research network of fundamental pH Research UnipHied ( at the 7th Baltic Electrochemistry Conference organized by the University of Tartu.

The presentation started with explaining the need for the experimental realization and measurement capability of unified pH (pHabs). Thereafter the current state of art of measuring pHabs values was described and finally, some first exemplary results were highlighted.

The presentation created a lot of interest from the participants and roughly as many questions were asked as for the other four presentations of the same session put together!

As of now, it is not possible to compare pH values of solutions made in different solvents, as every solvent has its own pH scale. This situation is highly unfortunate, since it causes confusion and inaccuracies into many fields, extending far beyond the specific field of acid-base chemistry. Examples are industrial catalytic processes, food chemistry, liquid chromatography, etc.

The central aim of the UnipHied network is to establish at international level measurement capability of pHabs values that would be applicable also at routine laboratory level. The two key activities for achieving that are creating a reliable method for the experimental or computational evaluation of the liquid junction potential and between aqueous and non-aqueous solutions and developing a coherent and validated suite of calibration standards for standardizing routine measurement systems in terms of pHabs values for a variety of widespread systems (e.g., industrial mixtures, soils/waters, food products, biomaterials).

The partners of the UnipHied network are LNE (France, coordinator), BFKH (Hungary), CMI (Czech Republic), DFM (Denmark), IPQ (Portugal), PTB (Germany), SYKE (Finland), TÜBITAK-UME (Turkey), Freiburg University (Germany), ANBSensors (United Kingdom), FCiencias.ID (Portugal), UT (Estonia, initiator).

UnipHied is funded from the EMPIR programme (project 17FUN09) co-financed by the Participating States and from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.


UT analytical chemistry education activities at EcoBalt 2018 Conference

On Oct 26, 2018, Ivo Leito gave a presentation titled “Analytical chemistry education activities at University of Tartu” at the EcoBalt 2018 conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The presentation contains information about the online courses LC-MS Method Validation and Estimation of Measurement Uncertainty in Chemical Analysis, as well as the recently published tutorial reviews (Validation I, Validation II, LoD I, LoD II) that form the basis of the LC-MS Method Validation course.

The presentation also addresses the international master’s programmes Applied Measurement Science and Excellence in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Tartu.

The last part of the talk is devoted to the Eurachem 2018 General Assembly and Workshop that will take place in Tartu on May 20-21, 2018. The topic of the workshop is “Validation of targeted and non-targeted methods of analysis”.


Milestone in catalysis research: approaching sub-ppm-level asymmetric organocatalysis

Recently our group had the pleasure of participating in a cutting-edge endeavor: characterizing the acidity of some extremely efficient strongly acidic organocatalysts. In the case of the Mukaiyama aldol reaction, the best of them (1) worked at low ppm to sub-ppm level, (2) gave excellent yields and (3) high enantiomeric selectivity as well as (4) turnover numbers (TON numbers) of hundreds of thousands.

The extent to which these four features occurred together in the same catalyst was so remarkable that the results were published in one of the most prestigious journals in chemical sciences: Nature Chemistry 2018, 10, 888-894.

The extremely demanding acidity measurements were performed by Dr Karl Kaupmees. The whole research was led by the group of professor Benjamin List – a worldwide known guru in the field of strongly acidic catalysts working at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung.
These results are expected to open new avenues in the development of powerful new organocatalysts.

(Photo by Andres Tennus: Karl doing acidity measurements in a glovebox under anhydrous conditions)

From Advancements in Separation Technology to Fundamental Basicity Studies

This is the range of topics addressed on Aug 31, 2018 as PhD dissertations addressing these topics were defended at UT Institute of Chemistry by Sofja Tšepelevitš and Märt Lõkov.

Sofja Tšepelevitš (right on the photo) in her thesis titled Experimental studies and modeling of solute-solvent interactions evaluated and developed approaches for modeling intermolecular interactions in solutions and the resulting macroscopic solute properties. The applicability of the COSMO-RS method to modeling hydrogen bonding in solution was evaluated. COSMO-RS was also evaluated for its ability to predict solvent-solvent extraction. An interesting and novel issue addressed in her work besides conventional structure based property prediction was the possibility to predict liquid-liquid partitioning of solutes with unknown structure.

The thesis of Märt Lõkov titled Basicity of some nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon bases in acetonitrile is focused on obtaining high-quality basicity data (pKa data) of bases of most diverse families and rationalizing their behavior and revealing structure-basicity relationships. Nitrogen bases (N-heterocycles), phosphorus bases (halogen-substituted phosphanes) and carbon bases (substituted pentafulvenes) were included in the work.

Congratulations to both of you!