Inaugural lecture by Heloisa N. Bordallo

Neutrons: the key to understanding hydrogen bonds and improving our quality of life.

Can neutrons really help us live longer and get home faster?

Hydrogen bonds are ubiquitous to our bodies and the world around us. Although most hydrogen bonds exhibit weak attractive forces, with a binding strength about one-tenth of a normal covalent bond, they are very important, for without them our daily lives would be impossible. If we could see inside ourselves at the molecular level we would observe a marvelous display of chemical reactions taking place, keeping the body healthy. When a foreign drug enters our inner world, it can interfere with these reactions via mechanisms common to solution chemistry--- including hydrogen bonding, dipole-dipole interactions, charge-transfer and covalent bonding--- with (unpredictably) beneficial, benign or catastrophic consequences. Clearly, understanding the structure of a drug in terms of its hydrogen bonds and their interaction with our body chemistry is vital to the challenge of designing new and improved therapeutic drugs.

In our physical (outer) world, hydrogen bonds are just as important. Without them, for instance, cement would crumble and it would not be possible to use this magic material in such diverse applications as moulding into different shapes and sizes to build skyscrapers, bridges, superhighways and houses, or to repair our teeth and keeping them healthy. 

In this lecture I will show that Inelastic Neutron Scattering and DFT calculations are powerful instruments for probing matter. Together, they make it possible to follow and understand many problems related to hydrogen bond interactions between molecules in physics, chemistry and biology.