Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of St Andrews
Dates: Jan 2015-Dec 2019
Summary: Catalysis provides society with efficient industrial processes that minimise energy, waste and harmful by-products. Within this context, the main goal of our research is to develop novel catalysts and new catalytic routes to selectively prepare materials with desirable properties that may have medical and technological applications. Our research benefits from close contacts with the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. We provide bespoke catalytic solutions to problems of industrial relevance, some of which are being applied on kilogram scales, to generate key target molecules that will be of long-term benefit to society.
Catalytic chemistry is used to prepare structurally complex materials on a molecular scale, with the ability to synthetically manipulate and prepare specific molecular structures with defined properties the main goal of this research area. Catalytic chemistry therefore has applications that span the breadth of contemporary science ranging from materials chemistry to chemical biology. We specialize in a branch of catalysis where molecular complexity is often associated with “chirality”. What is chirality? It is the fundamental property of a molecule, or indeed any structure or object, which renders it non-superimposable on its mirror image. For example, your right hand is chiral because it cannot be superimposed upon its mirror image (your left hand); the right hand is called the “enantiomer” of the left hand. This property of chirality also has important consequences; we all know that a right-handed glove cannot be worn on the left hand! The specific branch of organic chemistry that my research group are interested in is known as asymmetric catalysis, and this area is concerned with developing methods for the highly selective preparation of a one-handed form of a chiral molecule over the other in an efficient and controlled manner.
Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Dates: Oct 2010-Sep 2013
Summary: Nature uses enzymes as highly specific catalysts for a multitude of chemical transformations that are essential for biological processes. Nature’s catalysts are chiral, and have evolved to be able to distinguish between the two enantiomeric (right and left-handed) forms of a chiral molecule with exquisite selectivity. Although efficient, enzyme reactions often need another molecule, known as a co-factor, to promote specific transformations. In order to further our understanding of these processes, synthetic chemists are constantly trying to engineer artificial molecules that have the ability to mimic enzymatic transformations. There is much current interest in one specific branch of this area of research, which is commonly known as “organocatalysis”. This technique uses small organic molecules instead of enzymes in order to carry out selective chemical reactions.
Our research combines the fields of organocatalysis and chirality, and investigates a simple class of organic molecule, known as a Lewis base, for selective chemical reactions. Taking inspiration from this Nature, it is proposed that two classes of Lewis base, carbenes and isothioureas, can promote chemical transformations in a highly efficient and asymmetric manner.
Why choose to work in this area? This project will provide a fundamental level of understanding to science. The scope of this research will necessitate interdisciplinary training and cross-fertilisation of knowledge between the biological and chemical sciences that is necessary in the advancement of modern science. Such a project will ensure that the results will be of interest not only to synthetic organic chemists, but also to biochemists and biologists. Applications of these results will also impact upon pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and enable them to prepare drugs and bulk chemicals in a more efficient manner, with potential benefits to society.
Dates: Oct 2005-Sep 2010
Summary: This project summary is not available for publication.