Fellowship: Royal Society University Research Fellowship
Title of the research: Membrane-confined artificial molecular machines.
About the research
My group (currently 6 researchers made up of PDRA, PhDs and Masters students) work in the area of synthetic supramolecular chemistry, lipid bilayer membrane chemistry and nanotechnology. Currently, we are particularly interested in designing responsive supramolecular systems that operate in lipid bilayer membranes and can be “remote-controlled” by an external stimulus (chemical, light, pH etc.). These systems are embedded into the membrane of artificial cell-like compartments, and used as chemical tools to control a range of different functions, including transduction and amplification of chemical signals, catalysis of reactions at the membrane interface and transport of molecular cargo across the membrane. We are also interested in designing synthetic molecular machines (molecules that act as switches, motors and sensors, in which nano-mechanical motion can be controlled and exploited to carry out a specific task).
I am from Cheshire originally and attended my local state schools before studying Chemistry at Lincoln College, University of Oxford. I carried out my Part II research year (4th year project) in the group of Harry Anderson FRS working on mechanically interlocked porphyrin nanorings. I remained in Oxford for a DPhil with Paul Beer, where I developed, amongst other things, halogen bonding receptors for anion recognition in water, and lanthanide-based rotaxanes for anion sensing in collaboration with Steve Faulkner. After a brief EPSRC Doctoral award position in the same group, I moved to the University of Cambridge to take up an Oppenheimer Early Career Research Fellowship (a postdoctoral fellowship/JRF-type position), working with Chris Hunter FRS developing chemical methods to transduce and amplify information across lipids bilayer membranes. During this time I was also a College Research Associate at Clare College, where I taught 2nd year synthetic chemistry supervisions (tutorials). In 2018 I was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, which I took up in the Department of Chemistry here in Oxford in October 2018. I am also a Fellow of Wadham College, where I teach Inorganic chemistry.
How will this fellowship help my career progression?
The Royal Society URF provides the time and resources to establish an independent research group and to develop my own research agenda and direction. The URF is a long-term, senior fellowship open to applications across the full range of sciences, and provides 5 years funding (with the possibility of extension by another 3 years). In my case, this has provided my salary, consumables, some equipment and funding for a PhD student and PDRA. The Royal Society offer a huge amount of very valuable support, including mentoring, a wide range of training courses, and I think most importantly, a wide network of existing and former research fellows.
The support the university provides
The University and Department provides URFs with the same opportunities as other PI’s to apply for studentships (such as from Doctoral Training Centres) and internal funding. For instance, I have been successful in applying for internal university funding for a new fluorescence spectrometer for my group to support my research. The research facilitation and finance teams provide support with grant applications and preparing budgets. I am also very grateful to colleagues in the department have been extremely generous with their time, advice and sharing of equipment, and this has led to a number of internal collaborations being established.