Physical Organic Chemistry

Welcome to the Huck group

We would like to inform you, that we have a renewed website. Below you will find the link. Homepagina - The Huck Group (

Life. What is it? How does it work? Where could it possibly come from?

These are the key questions we are trying to address, and the ultimate goal of the group is the bottom up construction of life. Although we typically recognize life when we see it, it is extremely hard to define exactly what it is. Understanding how living systems work, and closely related to this question, how life can emerge out of non-life, have therefore become some of the greatest scientific challenges of this time.

Cells are the basic units of all life, but they form the most complex chemical reactors imaginable. Unlike our traditional reaction flask, the reaction environment inside cells is crowded and compartmentalized. What is the importance of cell size, volume and shape? How fast do cells respond to external triggers? What is the origin of noise? In our group, we are developing new tools to measure the contents of single cells, and we study the impact of the physical environment of the cellular compartment on the chemistry of life.

Life operates far from equilibrium and all of life’s function emerge from the dynamics of complex reaction networks. Although we understand how small network motifs generate simple functions, the construction of synthetic networks displaying out-of-equilibrium functions is still a major challenge. We combine organic chemistry, enzymology and mathematical modelling to design, build and test small molecule, enzymatic or synthetic gene networks in microfluidic reactors. These studies provide insight into the driving forces for self-organization of (prebiotic) reaction networks in different environments, and how evolution might take place on the molecular scale.

The Department of Physical-Organic Chemistry is part of Theme 2, Chemistry of Complex Systems, within the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM). We work closely together with the Spruijt group, the Korevaar group  and the Velema group and hold joint research group meetings.

Recent Key Publications

  1. 3D microniches reveal the importance of cell size and shape, Nature Communications 2017, 8, 1962
  2. The Nanotechnology of life-inspired systems, Nature Nanotechnology 2016, 11,  585-592
  3. Macromolecular crowding creates heterogeneousenvironments of gene expression in picolitredroplets. Nature Nanotechnology 2016, 11, 191-197.
  4. Rational design of functional and tunable oscillating enzymatic networks. Nature Chem. 2015, 7, 160-165
  5. Complexity of molecular crowding in cell-free enzymatic reaction networks. Nat. Nanotech. 2014, 9, 406-407
  6. Enhanced transcription rates in membrane-free protocells formed by coacervation of cell lysate. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 2013, 110, 11692-11697.
  7. Extracellular-matrix tethering regulates stem-cell fate. Nat. Mater. 2012, 11, 642-649.
  8. Actin and serum response factor transduce physical cues from the microenvironment to regulate epidermal stem cell fate decisions. Nature Cell Biology  2010, 12, 711-718.
  9. Coupling microdroplet microreactors with mass spectrometry: reading the contents of single droplets online. Angew. Chem. Int. Edit. 2009, 48, 3665-3668.