From potential contamination of individuals with radioactive fission products after a nuclear accident to the therapeutic use of radioisotopes for cancer diagnostics and treatment, the coordination and biological chemistry of actinides have become increasingly relevant to a number of applied problems. Understanding the fundamental bonding interactions of selective metal assemblies presents a rich set of scientific challenges and is critical to the characterization of f-element coordination chemistry in environmentally and biologically relevant species, and to the development of highly efficient separation reagents or new therapeutic agents. Our approach to these challenges uses a combination of biochemical and spectroscopic studies on both in vitro and in vivo systems to characterize the selective binding of f-block metal ions by natural and biomimetic hard oxygen-donor architectures and the subsequent macromolecular recognition of the resulting assemblies.
Luminescence sensitization, UV-Visible, X-ray absorption, and X-ray diffraction spectroscopic techniques as well as transmission electron microscopy and electron energy loss spectroscopy allow us to tune specific actinide coordination features by ligands that drive the differentiation of different metals through stabilization in specific oxidation states and provide information on their respective electronic structures. These studies will be discussed with a focus on emerging applications in separation, isotope production, and medicine.