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Research Fellows Directory

Kim Jelfs

Dr Kim Jelfs

Research Fellow


Imperial College London

Research summary

Supramolecular chemistry is known as “chemistry beyond the molecule”, where

groups of molecules assemble without forming chemical bonds. Supramolecular

systems have exciting applications as sensors, molecular switches, molecular

machines, such as molecules that “walk” along a track, and as catalysts that

speed up other reactions. We would like to design these systems for new

applications by deducing the properties of a supramolecular systems from a

simple chemical sketch or idea – much as an architect’s sketch of a building, for

example, can reliably predict its function. However, when we simply draw a

molecule, we do not know what properties it will have, nor how it will assemble.

Worse, in many cases we cannot be confident that the particular molecule can in

fact be synthesised at all since the assembly rules in chemistry are, still, much

less well developed than those in architecture. Instead, synthetic chemists use

their chemical intuition to guide them as to to the best experiments to try. Then, if

successful in getting a product, they must characterise the material and its

properties. Even in state-of-the-art labs, this is a slow process – a new molecule

can take a year to prepare, let alone to characterise. Sometimes even small

changes in the reaction can have a large effect on the outcomes, hence ‘intuitive’

design breaks down, particularly as systems become more complex. In this

proposal, my aim is to provide a computational ‘blueprint’ for supramolecular

materials in order to allow synthetic research teams to discover new, targeted

functions in a much more rapid timeframe. This is exciting because it will allow us

to direct chemists towards the best synthetic systems. Ultimately I hope that

computational design of new materials becomes reliable enough that it is a routine

precursor to synthesis in the laboratory, just as an architect’s sketch is the first

step to constructing a building.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Directing the synthesis of functional molecular materials

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2013 - Sep 2018

Value: £475,962.38

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