DISRUPT: Disruptive processes for late-stage functionalisation in chemical synthesis
The EPSRC and SFI Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Nottingham is offering three 48-month PhD studentships in organic chemistry in its thematic area “DISRUPT: Disruptive processes for late-stage functionalisation in chemical synthesis”.
The pharmaceutical industry is a large contributor to the UK’s carbon footprint. To meet current Net Zero goals, sustainable processes are required for the synthesis of high-value chemicals (pharmaceuticals, materials, etc.). DISRUPT aims to address this challenge by delivering new methodology for late-stage functionalisation of pharmaceutically relevant molecules. Projects will develop new reactions to access target molecules and investigate their application in drug discovery, drug delivery and medical imaging.
We will provide research training in synthetic organic chemistry leading to a core PhD in chemistry, but the projects will also provide opportunities to work across disciplinary boundaries with co-investigators from the schools of pharmacy, medicine, engineering and computer science. These posts would ideally suit those with a strong interest in sustainability, organic chemistry and methodology development.
Examples of potential research areas in the theme include:
- Development of novel photocatalytic reactions for C-H functionalisation of complex molecules (e.g., pharmaceuticals), and prediction of their selectivity.
- Biocatalytic & enzymatic strategies for the modular chemical modification of drug targets.
- Transition-metal catalysed isotopic labelling of medical (PET) imaging agents for the diagnosis and treatment of bacterial infections.
- Selective functionalisation of biocompatible polymers for therapeutic applications, such as non-invasive monitoring of cancer drug delivery in real time.
The first year of this CDT involves a student-focused and individually tailored series of technical and laboratory training courses and workshops, designed to provide the students with the skills and confidence required to successfully undertake their PhD project. With the support of their academic mentors, the students also have the unique opportunity to co-design and develop the research projects which they will focus on in years 2-4 of their studies.
Applicants should have, or are expected to achieve, a First Class or good 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in chemistry or natural sciences specialising in chemistry. Research experience will be advantageous. The University of Nottingham and our CDT are committed to providing an inclusive study environment for all students. We welcome applications from candidates from different backgrounds and protected characteristics.
Dr Miriam O'Duill, (Theme Lead) School of Chemistry
Prof. Cameron Alexander, School of Pharmacy
Dr Helen Betts, Nottingham University Hospital
Dr James Cuthbertson, School of Chemistry
Dr Kistaps Ermanis, School of Chemistry
Dr Grazziela Figueredo, School of Computer Science
Prof. Anna Grabowska, School of Medicine
Dr Anca Pordea, School of Engineering
Dr Mattia Silvi, School of Chemistry
For more information about the research topics, please contact Dr Miriam O’Duill at firstname.lastname@example.org
LIFE: Lithium-Free electrochemical Energy
LIFE: Lithium-Free electrochemical Energy
Li-ion batteries have revolutionised personal electronics and opened the door to electrification of the automotive fleet, but their widespread use has brought significant challenges in terms of sustainability. While existing reserves of Li will likely meet our long-term demands (in contrast to some of the other elements used in Li-ion technologies), Li-mining processes raise significant socioeconomic and environmental issues. Consequently, new energy-storage systems based on abundant and readily available materials are critical for next-generation battery technologies.
The Mg battery is one of the most promising next-generation ‘post-lithium’ systems, due to the high theoretical capacity (2205 mA h g−1Mg), negative standard reduction potential (Mg/Mg2+ = −2.37 V), and low cost and high availability of Mg metal (concentration in Earth’s crust = 23,300 ppm vs. 20 ppm for Li). Moreover, extraction of Mg avoids many of the issues associated with Li mining, and Mg self-passivates in air, rendering it a safe option in energy applications. Despite these opportunities, Mg batteries are currently limited by (i) instability of the electrolyte, (ii) irreversible Mg intercalation at the positive electrode, and (iii) poor ionic conductivity through the solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI) at the Mg negative electrode. These are chemical and engineering challenges that we will address through the application of new organic chemistry for electrode design, organometallic chemistry for synthesis of electrolytes, electroanalytical chemistry of device components and interfaces, and engineering of complete cells.
Available research areas:
- Synthesis of Organometallic Mg-ion carriers and solvent formulations
- Design, demonstration, and evaluation of a non-lithium organic battery
- Synthesis of hybrid organic/inorganic positive electrodes for organic batteries
- Development of a Mg2+-conducting interphase at the Mg-battery negative electrode
- Electrochemical studies of the magnesium battery and its components
Through these projects, students will develop a multi-disciplinary skillset, in an area of key strategic interest to the UK.
Dr. Darren Walsh (Chemistry)
Prof. Deborah Kays (Chemistry)
Prof. Pat Wheeler (Engineering)
Dr. Graham Newton (Chemistry)
Prof. Chris Gerada (Engineering)
Prof. Simon Woodward (Chemistry)
Dr. Lee Johnson (Chemistry)
Dr. Eoghan McGarrigle (UCD Chemistry)
MiSynth: Clean Chemical Synthesis Without Organic Solvents
Would you like to be part of an interdisciplinary team developing a more sustainable approach to essential chemicals like medicines and crop protection compounds?
Solvents account for around 80% of the total mass of a typical organic reaction and constitute 85% of the waste. Typical organic solvents are derived from crude oil, flammable, toxic, and are incinerated after use. Conventional chemical synthesis with organic solvents is not sustainable and we need to act now to develop alternatives that will lead to more environmentally responsible chemical processes.
Water is regarded as a sustainable solvent for organic synthesis, and micelle-forming surfactants can be used to self-assemble nanoreactors for synthetic chemistry that would otherwise not occur in an aqueous environment. This approach to chemical synthesis is very attractive but there are serious challenges to overcome to render it competitive. Addressing these challenges with new science is the overarching goal of the MiSynth project.
Available research areas:
- Micelle catalysis – new metal-based and organocatalytic chemistry for the construction of carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bonds with stereocontrol.
- Computational models for the optimisation and prediction of micelle properties and the design of novel nanoreactors.
- Fundamental mechanistic studies of micelle-based catalysis using fluorescent probes.
- Development of flow-mode micelle synthesis methods and membrane-based separation technology to support recycling, extraction, and purification.
Each of these will be supported by cutting-edge characterisation techniques such as cryo-TEM, DFT and COSMO-RS modelling.
Professor Ross Denton (Theme lead, School of Chemistry)
Dr Liam Ball (School of Chemistry)
Dr Graham Newton (School of Chemistry)
Dr Amanda Wright (School of Engineering)
Dr Julie Watts (School of Pharmacy)
Professor Jonathan Hirst (School of Chemistry)
Dr Eoghan McGarrigle (School of Chemistry, University College Dublin)
Dr Bekum Tokay (School of Engineering)
Sustainable biocatalytic solutions for key chemical transformations
Green catalysis plays a central role in the global transition to a more sustainable future. The development of synthetic catalysts that facilitate greener chemistry, and which are themselves produced sustainably, is extremely challenging, yet nature uses proteins (enzymes) as powerful and versatile catalysts to drive a remarkable range of reactions on incredibly diverse substrates. These biocatalysts are made from renewable resources, they work efficiently at room temperature in water and in neoteric solvents and can therefore offer process engineering and sustainability advantages. Exploiting protein scaffolds to develop catalysts that can be tailored to a broad range of specific applications would offer huge benefits in terms of advancing sustainable processes. The realisation of the significant promise held by biocatalysis on a broader portfolio of substrates and reactions would have a global impact on chemical production.
This theme will explore and further expand the biocatalytic toolkit available to address a broad remit of applications that meet both academic and industrial needs. Our cohort-based approach will identify novel biocatalysts, and further repurpose existing options, to build a library of biocatalytic solutions to a variety of unmet challenges across the healthcare and materials industries.
Research Theme-specific training activities:
- Genome mining and synthetic genomics (reading and writing genomes)
- Gene cloning, protein expression, and synthetic chemistry
- Protein engineering, including protein evolution, rational design and un-natural amino acid mutagenesis
- High throughput assay development
- Analytical chemistry including NMR and MS
Available Research Areas:
- Amide bond formation and the site-selective modification of peptides and proteins
- The glycosylation of versatile scaffolds for improved biocompatibility/stability
- Combinatorial synthetic biology for evolution of enzymes and whole-cell biocatalysts
- Biocatalysis for sustainable polymer synthesis/functionalisation
Dr Nicholas Mitchell (School of Chemistry) – Theme Lead
Dr Luisa Ciano (School of Chemistry)
Dr Ellis O’Neill (School of Chemistry)
Prof. Neil Thomas (School of Chemistry)
Dr Anca Pordea (Faculty of Engineering)
Dr John Heap (School of Life Sciences)
Dr Ben Blount (School of Life Sciences)
Dr Vincenzo Taresco (School of Chemistry/Centre for Additive Manufacturing)
Prof. Kevin O’Connor (School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, University College Dublin)
Dr Tanja Narancic (School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, University College Dublin)
Applicants should have a first or upper second degree (BSc or integrated Masters) in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biotechnology or a related area which has covered chemical reactivity and molecular structure and/or molecular biology, protein expression and characterisation. Having a relevant Masters degree, industrial or academic research internship would be advantageous.
BeAST: Bioelectrochemical applications for sustainable technologies
Cells operate in part by careful orchestration of bioelectrical circuits. Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) in which we finely control these circuits offer a potentially disruptive technology to sustainable produce chemicals. This will be achieved by the advancement in microbial synthesis using renewable electricity, H2 and CO2 from waste or captured from the atmosphere. This CDT Theme proposal will enable a step-change in our ability to tune the electrical-cellular-directed production of valuable chemicals from waste gases. This will be accomplished by engineering bioelectrical circuits and biomimetic wiring of cells to electrodes. The material of the electrodes will be modulated using novel catalytic mechanisms able to integrate with conductive wires and redox bio-circuits enabling paradigm-shifting methods to control the underlying biology.
Research Theme-specific training activities:
- Electrophysiology and conjugating chemistry
- Material science: electrode/catalyst design and synthesis
- Synthetic biology, bionanoscience: utilising and exploiting synthetic molecular machines
- Structural biology: macromolecular assemblies, protein engineering
- Molecular modelling of dynamical catalytic and charge transfer systems
- Advanced spectroscopy
Available research areas:
- Gas-enabled BES design and fermentation
- Electrode/catalyst design and synthesis
- Engineering biology and microbiology with the pharmaceutical or industrial biotechnology applications
- Microbial cellular processes and metabolism
- Biochemistry and computational chemistry
Dr Katalin Kovacs, School of Pharmacy (Theme Lead)
Dr Frankie Rawson, School of Pharmacy
Prof Phil Williams, School of Pharmacy
Dr Christof Jaeger, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Dr Helena Gomes, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Prof Peter Licence, School of Chemistry
Dr Darren Walsh, School of Chemistry
TRANSFER: Targeting synthesis routes and novel materials from sustainable flow processing
The Industry 4.0 and Digital Chemistry movements are changing the way we make products and at the heart of these are additive manufacturing (AM, aka 3D printing) and flow technologies. AM can enable us to make free-form shapes with tailored chemistry and surface types. This can be used as reactor parts in flow technologies to control synthesis and materials assembly in ways not previously possible. TRANSFER will exploit these advantages and, using inline analysis, immediately optimise a reaction process for the materials properties (e.g. making a catalyst and directly using it in the same stream to evaluate its efficiency). The technologies developed for these processes can then be directly used to scale-up from discovery to production.
In this highly collaborative theme based both at the University of Nottingham and University College Dublin, our students will:
- Gain an understanding of the whole process cycle: Reactor design, synthesis and assembly, online analysis, machine learning enhanced self-optimisation and production.
- Appreciate the importance of the life cycle of these processes and how to address energy and materials waste minimisation and using sustainable methods and resources throughout the whole research.
- Work in a collaborative interdisciplinary team of engineers, chemists, materials scientists and physicists.
Dr Karen Robertson (Theme Lead), Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Prof Ed Lester, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Prof Ricky Wildman, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Dr James Cuthbertson, School of Chemistry
Prof Andrei Khlobystov, School of Chemistry
Prof Chris Tuck, Centre for Additive Manufacturing, Faculty of Engineering
Dr Orla Williams, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Prof Richard Hague, Centre for Additive Manufacturing, Faculty of Engineering
Dr Lyudmila Turyanska, School of Physics
HeatToPower: New generation sustainable thermoelectric materials and devices
In the present era, heat management and the generation of clean energy are critical issues for society. Thermoelectric materials help in two ways - they can convert waste heat into electrical energy, or run in reverse, they provide refrigeration with no moving parts. Today’s thermoelectric technologies are unsustainable and are held back from mass adoption by global resource issues. This Theme brings together experts from Chemistry, Physics and Engineering to provide the interdisciplinary and innovative approach required to build a new generation of thermoelectric materials using approaches ranging from novel organic synthesis, nanomaterials and nanocomposites, and two-dimensional materials.
Students in this theme will gain experience and training in a range of topics:
· Motivations, challenges, and solutions in sustainable energy
· Life cycle assessment of emerging technologies
· Interdisciplinary approaches to research at the Chemistry/Physics/Engineering interface
· The theory and practice of thermoelectric devices and systems
· Perspectives on industrial research and development
Dr Michael Weir (Theme Lead), School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Kristaps Ermanis, School of Chemistry
Dr Ming Li, Faculty of Engineering
Dr Oleg Makarovskiy, School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Miriam O’Duill, School of Chemistry
Dr Ender Özcan, School of Computer Science
Prof Amalia Patanè, School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Lyudmila Turyanska, Faculty of Engineering
Prof Ricky Wildman, Faculty of Engineering
Prof Simon Woodward, School of Chemistry
Down to Earth: Catalysis Using Earth Abundant Metals
The overall aim of this research Theme is the development and understanding of catalysis using earth abundant metals. It will focus on developing sustainable methodologies towards carbon-element bond formation using base metal catalysts, to leverage new reactivity and novel/cleaner production methods. The Theme researchers will investigate the design and synthesis of new catalysts, characterisation and mechanism of catalytic reactions, alternative solvents, theory and modelling of reactions, and scale-up of reactions.
The students will gain experience in a range of areas including the following thematic activities:
- Theory and practical characterisation of catalysts and catalytic reactions
- Kinetics and mechanism in catalysis
- Modelling of catalysts and reaction mechanisms
- Applications, challenges and opportunities for base metal catalysts in industry
Areas that the students could come from: Chemistry, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Natural Sciences, or a closely related subject.
Psus – A Sustainable Phosphorus Future
Phosphorus compounds fulfil essential roles in all aspects of modern life, from fertilisers and fire retardants to catalysts and pharmaceuticals. However, their synthesis currently relies on highly reactive precursors - such as the chemical weapons precursor PCl3 - and produces unacceptable waste streams. The four project-areas of this Theme will address major challenges in contemporary phosphorus chemistry:
- Next-generation ligands from safe, atom-economic building blocks
- Novel bioisosteres and 3D scaffolds for drug discovery
- Sustainable, scalable oligonucleotide chemistry for pharmaceutical processes
- Efficient remediation and revalorisation of phosphorus waste
Theme-specific training will include:
- Contemporary synthetic and organophosphorus chemistry
- Medicinal chemistry and drug design
- Kinetic analysis, simulation and computation
- Process chemistry, engineering and life-cycle analysis
Plastics from Plants Initiative (PPI)
Plastics from Plants Initiative (PPI) aims to develop new materials from sustainable plant-derived, non-food sources replacing petrochemical-derived materials in applications ranging from films/packaging through smart coatings to active therapeutics. This will involve:
- Sustainable Monomer/Polymer/Surfactant Generation: for example the development/exploitation of enzymatic, catalytic, biotechnology methods to produce bespoke sustainable monomers, polymers and surfactants
- Processing Development: for example additive manufacturing, super-critical carbon dioxide, emulsion/microfluidic/double emulsion, enzymatic and chemical precise post-functionalisation techniques will be used to control assembly or degradation
- Exploitation of these new materials in drug delivery, medical devices, cosmetics, personal care, packaging, adhesives, inks and archaeological preservation.
Consequently, each PhD project will be multidisciplinary to link cause and effect when changing the monomer/polymer molecular structure, assessing new materials properties in application-driven screening with both academic and industrial collaborators.
Spectroscopy for Process Intensification and Optimisation
We are seeking to recruit highly motivated students who are eager to work in a multi-disciplinary team involving mathematicians, chemists, physicists, and engineers to develop fully automated multi-step flow photochemical and electrochemical manufacturing processes. This goal is important because chemical manufacturing is moving towards smaller scale production of a larger number of compounds, leaving less time for process development while still being under pressure to reduce costs and increase production flexibility and efficiency. With the growing interest in sustainability, effective reaction monitoring and rapid process optimisation are crucial for future manufacturing.
This Theme focusses on combining Process Analytical Technology and self-optimisation AI to accelerate efficient chemical manufacturing on the kilogram scale in continuous photo-, electro-, and thermal chemistry processes. It will blend fundamental science with real world applications to deliver things that are genuinely new.
The students whom we recruit will gain broad experience in many different areas including:
- Flow chemistry
- Process modelling
- A large variety of spectroscopy including UV/visible, Infrared, Raman and ultrafast time-resolved techniques
- Interaction with both academia and industry
Theme Lead: Prof Mike George
Batteries for a Sustainable Future
Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized modern life but they are reaching their performance limits. This Research Theme will work towards the development of the next-generation of sustainable battery technologies. The new batteries will have higher energy densities than those of lithium-ion and are necessary for the widespread electrification of transportation.
- Outline of Theme-specific training activities:
- Formal training in state-of-the-art battery science
- Sustainable chemistry
- 3D printing
- Gas separation science
Projects are available in the development of sustainable electrolytes and additives, catalysis, gas scrubbers and cell architecture. Our multidisciplinary team includes experts in chemistry, chemical engineering, manufacturing and physics, and we will collaborate with a range of industrial and academic collaborators. Nottingham is a leading partner in the Faraday Institution, the UK’s national battery research initiative. Projects will align with Faraday Institution goals and students will have the opportunity to collaborate within the network.
Theme Lead: Dr Lee Johnson
“Dial-A-Catalyst” is focussed on the development of the new generation of nanocatalysts that combine the best features of homogenous (high activity and selectivity) and heterogeneous catalyst (high stability and recyclability) and their application in some of the most important reactions for the chemical industry (e.g. CO2 utilisation and ammonia synthesis). The unique catalytic properties of the novel nanocatalysis will be evaluated by: (i)- in situ and in operando methods, to understand the interaction between metals and small molecules (e.g. CO2, N2, H2), ii- in catalytic reactions using batch and flow reactors at the laboratory level and at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Siemens semi-industrial nanocatalyst test facility. In this project, we (PhD students and academic mentors) will make a step change in the design and fabrication of nanocatalysts solving a number of challenges of the chemical industry.
Outline of Theme-specific training activities:
- A large range of synthetic and characterisation methods using cutting edge instrumentation at UoN and Diamond Light Source.
- Undertake quantum chemical and molecular dynamics computations
- Industrial training at Siemens/Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Green Ammonia Pilot Plant facility
Available research areas
- Nanocatalysts: design and synthesis
- Spectroscopy: studying interactions of metal clusters with small molecules
- Modelling/computation of materials and catalytic reactions
- Catalytic processes: e.g. CO2 utilization, ammonia synthesis
Theme Leads: Dr Jesum Alves Fernandes and Prof Tim Wright
Chemical and Biological Recycling of Plastics
Many plastic waste streams are not suitable for mechanical recycling, and chemical and biological recycling technologies need significant development to become part of the mainstream solution to the plastics crisis. This theme will work to provide understanding of how different plastics waste streams can be processed, and what sort of new products can be formed (e.g. monomers, platform chemicals, functional porous materials). This is a complex and multidisciplinary challenge with the potential to generate cutting-edge fundamental research while working with industrial partners to find solutions to the global challenge of plastic waste.
Candidates from a wide range of backgrounds including chemistry, chemical engineering, computational modelling and biochemistry are invited to apply.
Outline of Theme-specific training activities:
- Polymer chemistry
- Processing technologies including microwave, enzymatic and supercritical fluids
- Valorising products via recovery of oligomers, monomers and functionalised materials
- Enzyme discovery, production and characterisation
- Advanced spectroscopic techniques
- Plastics in the circular economy and life cycle analysis
Available research areas include:
- Enzymatic polymer degradation and enzymatic valorisation of the resulting stream
- Novel recycling routes enabled by the unique properties of supercritical fluids
- Developing microwave technologies for polymer recycling
- Characterisation and exploitation of landfill plastics
Theme Lead: Dr Eleanor Binner
AI Designed Catalysis
Catalytic formation of C-H, C-C and C-Heteratom bonds is the invisible engine that drives formation of the molecules our society needs. Classical catalyst optimisation requires thousands of uni-varient optimisations typically moderated by humans. Self-learning algorithms offer opportunities to identify unique patterns in such complex data allowing faster process optimisation.
Late Stage Functionalisation
Late stage functionalisation of complex molecules is increasingly important for producing compound libraries to search for optimal function, and can be faster and more efficient compared with more conventional synthetic approaches where diversification occurs at an early stage. This theme will develop new, state-of-the-art methods for late stage functionalisation.
Towards Circular Processing
There is a pressing need for society to increase the level of recycling of materials and chemical-based products. The development of industrial processes that embrace circular processing is critical to sustainable development and cleaner manufacturing. This theme will develop novel, highly efficient reactor technologies to deliver products in energy and atom efficient processes with the aim of 'keeping the molecules in play'