Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: Cardiff University
Dates: Oct 2006-Sep 2011
Summary: The Carpenter group is conducting research in one fundamental and one applied area of chemistry. The fundamental work concerns the mathematical models for describing the rates and mechanisms of chemical reactions. These models underpin almost all of chemistry, but they were developed in the first half of the 20th century when there were no digital computers to assist in the testing and development of the theories. Now there are, and what we are finding is that some of the mathematical approximations which had to be made in order to make the equations soluble "on the back of an envelope" were not really justified (except by virtue of expediency). This means that some of the fundamental ways in which chemical reactions are described, and taught, are actually wrong. The consequences are potentially profound and wide-ranging, but their full scope is only now being uncovered.
The more applied research is in the field of artificial photosynthesis. As almost everyone knows, plants use the energy of sunlight to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugars that are of use to the organism. Humans have co-opted this piece of biology to have plants make "biofuels," such as ethanol. However, this strategy pits the use of arable land for fuel production against that for food production. If we could find an artificial analogue of photosynthesis, it should be possible to carry out similar beneficial transformations without the need to commit arable land to the enterprise. This is a widely recognised challenge and is being extensively researched world wide. The Carpenter group has recently pointed out a new strategy for achieving this goal, and has conducted the first experiment to show that it is feasible.