Dr Stephen Simpson (1930 - 2020)
The Department is sad to announce the death of Dr Stephen Simpson. Stephen joined the Physical Chemistry Laboratory in 1969 and served as both lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Fellow at Wadham college for 28 years until his retirement in 1997. He was an inspiration to a large number of undergraduates, Part II and D.Phil. students and postdocs whom he taught or guided, and all will have their own fond memories of him.
Stephen was an undergraduate chemist at Oxford completing his Part 2 project with John Barltrop in the Dyson Perrins laboratory before undertaking his D.Phil studies in the area of molecular force fields under the supervision of Jack Linnett in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory. From there Stephen held post-doctoral positions with Don Hornig, first in Princeton and then at Brown University, before moving to Cambridge to work with R.G.W. Norrish, and eventually to the National Physical Laboratory and finally Oxford.
The majority of Stephen's work in Oxford concerned the detailed measurements of energy transfer in small molecules, particularly carbon monoxide. He used shock tube techniques at high temperatures, and chemical laser excitation at lower temperatures in his extensive gas phase studies. In later years he showed his experimental skills in building instrumentation for the study of the photodissociative behaviour of adsorbed molecules on dielectric surfaces. Older members of the Department will remember his mountaineering skills, developed both in Europe and the Himalayas. He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him. Details of arrangements for a memorial service will be announced in due course.
ERC Award for Professor Susan Perkin
Professor Susan Perkin has been awarded a grant of 2M Euro from the European Research Council (ERC) to fund research into highly concentrated electrolytes and electrolytic materials. The ELECTROLYTE project will study materials ranging from battery electrolytes to the interior of halophilic organisms, with the aim of uncovering the fundamental physical principles determining their collective properties and interactions.
The ERC is the flagship programme of Horizon 2020, the EU's Research Framework Programme, supporting frontier research on the basis of scientific excellence.
ERC Award for Professor Andrew Baldwin
Professor Andrew Baldwin has been awarded a grant of 2M Euro from the European Research Council (ERC). The award will fund his work on 'membrane less organelles' which are often formed by phase separation of proteins to form distinct regions inside cells. These little patches of 'organic solvent' have very different chemical properties to bulk water and it is thought that cells may be acting like synthetic organic chemists, effectively switching between solvents to conduct different reactions at different times during the cell cycle. If this is correct, then it is a large departure from the wider view that molecules inside cells are dissolved either in water or in membranes.
The ERC is the flagship programme of Horizon 2020, the EU's Research Framework Programme, supporting frontier research on the basis of scientific excellence.
Bioengineering the human gut
An interdisciplinary collaboration generates an advanced model of the human gastrointestinal tract with broad applications for disease research and regenerative medicine.
The ability to grow human tissue in the lab has progressed rapidly over recent years, promising a new frontier for regenerative medicine and experimental modelling of human diseases. The in vitro culture of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is particularly attractive due to the prevalence of disorders of this tissue, including irritable bowel disease and cancer, and the need for replacement tissue for transplantation. However, the number of different cell types and the precise arrangement required to form a functional tubular GI tract makes this tissue challenging to grow in the lab.
A common strategy for constructing GI tracts is to use a scaffold material to establish the tissue structure, which is then seeded with human cells that stick to the structure and grow. Various different scaffold materials have been tested but there is still room for improvement.
To generate GI tracts that are representative of those in the body, Dr Linna Zhou and Dr Carlos Ruiz Puig from Professor Xin Lu's (Ludwig Oxford) and Professor Hagan Bayley's (Department of Chemistry) labs have researched the use of collagen protein as a scaffold. In their paper published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers developed a new and simple method to construct tubular GI tracts from collagen without some of the additional steps that have been used by others previously.
Their method uses precise 3D printing of droplets containing cells and collagen, which then form into continuous tubes. Importantly, the complex tubular shape was produced by controlling the density of the fibroblasts - cells that produce the structural framework for animal tissues - seeded at different sections of the GI tracts.
They generated different types of GI tract (intestine and stomach) by seeding the collagen structures with human cells from different tissues and were able to demonstrate the important layered structural features found in the natural GI tract. The engineered stomach tissues were susceptible to infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, providing a valuable disease model.
These advanced bioengineered GI tracts therefore show great potential both for use as a disease model in biological research and for regenerative medicine. Future plans include using these engineered GI tracts to study GI cancer progression and to test therapeutic agents.
MGMS Frank Blaney Award for Professor Fernanda Duarte Gonzalez
The Molecular Graphics and Modelling Society has awarded the third annual Frank Blaney Award to Professor Fernanda Duarte Gonzalez. The award recognises outstanding young independent researchers working in the field. The Duarte group uses computational methods to understand fundamental problems in (bio)organic chemistry. A primary goal is to develop predictive models and computational methodologies to rationalise reaction mechanisms and facilitate the design of artificial catalysts.
Professor Norman March (1927 - 2020)
Born the son of a Master Plumber in the small Leicestershire mining town of Coalville in 1927, and educated at King's College London, Norman March was to become the first Coulson Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, a position he occupied from 1977 until his retirement from Oxford in 1994. Prior to that, he had been Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College (1972-77), and Sheffield University (1961-72). A prolific author, he published 28 books and more than 1500 scientific papers over the course of his long career, right up to the last few years of his life.
Hot Paper in Angewandte Chemie
Calculating reaction energy profiles to aid in mechanistic elucidation has long been the domain of expert computational chemists. The Duarte group has recently released an open-source Python package - autodE - to automate the characterization of reaction pathways with minimal user input and expertise. autodE transforms mechanistic hypotheses from 2D chemical sketches to conformationally-sampled 3D geometries and generates full reaction profiles for complex reactions in a fully automated manner. This work, led by DPhil students Tom Young (TMCS CDT), Alistair Sterling (SBM CDT) and Part II student Joseph Silcock (St Hugh's College), has been published in Angewandte Chemie as 'Hot article'.
IOP Medal for Dr Brianna Heazlewood
The Institute of Physics has named Dr Brianna Heazlewood as the winner of the Henry Moseley Medal and Prize, awarded to exceptional physicists in the early stages of their careers. Brianna's award is for her outstanding contributions to the development of novel experimental techniques and computational modelling for studying the dynamics and mechanisms of reactive collisions at extremely low temperatures.
Jonathan Flint, IOP President, said 'Congratulations to all the winners of this year's IOP Awards, which recognise and reward excellence in individuals and teams and their contribution to physics. We're delighted to celebrate the winners' extraordinary achievements.'
£1.7 million awarded to Chemistry SRFs
£1.7 million awarded to Chemistry SRFs for new state of the art NMR, ESR and Mass Spectrometry multi-user instrumentation.
The Department of Chemistry Small Research Facilities (SRFs) have been awarded £1.7 million in EPSRC funding to update multi-user research equipment. The Department's bid for funding led by principal investigators Professor Tim Claridge, Professor Christiane Timmel, and Professor James McCullagh will provide new multi-user instrumentation and upgrades to existing equipment that will support research across the department. This is particularly important as it facilitates and underpins our world leading research.
The funding provides a new 600 MHz solution NMR spectrometer equipped with a broadband multinuclear helium-cooled cryogenic probe to support research across synthesis, catalysis and functional materials. Two new state of the art open-access mass spectrometer systems supporting organic, inorganic and chemical biology research and a next generation electron spin resonance spectrometer upgrade that will provide new EPR capabilities at 9.4 GHz (X-band) and 94 GHz between room temperature and 2K.
Professor James McCullagh said. "This is excellent news. The new instrumentation will benefit a wide range of researchers and projects in the department. It will bring both new experimental capabilities and will give researchers access to the highest quality data across a range of spectroscopic and spectrometric techniques."
Hydrogen from microwaving plastic waste
Published this week in Nature Catalysis, Peter Edwards and his colleagues wanted to "confront the grim reality" of plastic waste, with the UK alone producing 1.5 million tonnes each year. As the density of hydrogen in plastic bags is about 14 per cent by weight, plastic offers a possible new source for countries eyeing cleanly produced hydrogen to tackle climate change.
Most existing approaches involve first using very high temperatures of more than 750°C to decompose plastic into syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and then using a second step to separate out the hydrogen.
Edwards and his team instead broke the plastic into small pieces with a kitchen blender and mixed it with a catalyst of iron oxide and aluminium oxide. When blasted with a microwave generator at 1000 watts, the catalyst created hot spots in the plastic and stripped out the hydrogen - recovering 97 per cent of the gas in the plastic within seconds.
The solid material left over was almost exclusively carbon nanotubes. The single-step approach has the advantage of just heating the catalyst, not all of the plastic, resulting in less energy use, as the plastic does not absorb microwaves.
The results hold out "an attractive potential solution for plastic waste", says Edwards. Although only done at a small scale, using about 300 grams of plastic for each test, larger experiments are already being planned.
Professor Charlotte Williams OBE
The Department is delighted that Professor Charlotte Williams has been awarded the OBE for services to Chemistry in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Her work on the development of sustainable polymers is World leading and focuses on the use of waste biomass and CO2 to yield useful polymers using a range of catalyst molecules. In 2011, she founded Econic Technologies to commercialise catalysts to transform CO2 into products (http://econic-technologies.com/).
Her work has been recognised by recent prizes from DECHEMA (Otto Roelen Medal, 2018), The UK Catalysis Hub (Sir John Meurig Thomas Medal, 2017) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (Corday Morgan Medal, 2016). She is the recipient of an Established Career Fellowship by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Collaborative work from a number of Oxford- and RFI-based groups including Professors Ben Davis, Veronique Gouverneur, Richard Compton, Shabaz Mohammed, Andrew Baldwin and Akane Kawamura has appeared in Nature. This research article reports a new way to edit proteins with a catalytic process driven by blue light (450 nm). This benign chemistry enables the introduction of reactive and labelled side-chains, thereby expanding the range of further transformations possible on proteins. Specifically, in situ generation of boronic acid catechol ester derivatives generates RH2C· radicals that form the native (β-CH2-γ-CH2) linkage of natural residues and post-translational modifications, whereas in situ potentiation of pyridylsulfonyl derivatives by Fe(II) generates RF2C· radicals that form equivalent β-CH2-γ-CF2 linkages bearing difluoromethylene labels. Post-translational access to such reactions and chemical groups on proteins could be useful in revealing and creating protein function. The study is published in the journal Nature.
Prize for the Best Talk
Congratulations to Jess Reynolds, who was awarded the Prize for the Best Talk at the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry Young Medicinal Chemistry Symposium. Jess won the prize for the Best Talk at the RSC BMCS Symposium last December, allowing her to represent the UK against 11 other regional prize winners from around Europe at the EFMC YMCS meeting. She will now give a talk at the main EFMC meeting next year as her prize.
Best Poster Award
Arnau Bertran, DPhil student in the Centre for Advanced Electron Spin Resonance (CAESR) supervised by Dr Alice Bowen and Prof. Christane Timmel, has been awarded a Best Poster Award at the VI International School for Young Scientists on Magnetic Resonance and Magnetic Phenomena in Chemical and Biological Physics (online) for his work on Light-Induced Triplet-Triplet Electron Spin Resonance spectroscopy.
Looking inside banana-shaped liquid crystals
Researchers from the group of Professor Roel Dullens at the Department of Chemistry have developed a new system of micrometre sized banana-shaped particles. With these bananas they experimentally confirm the existence of the so-called 'splay-bend nematic' liquid crystal phase which was predicted 40 years ago, but had remained elusive until now. These results provide the cornerstone for the further development of new banana-shaped liquid crystals.
Liquid crystals are a fascinating state of matter that we encounter in our everyday life. For example, the cell membranes in our bodies are in a liquid crystalline state - and so are the functional materials used in displays of TVs and computers. The reason this state of matter is a cornerstone of both living and technological materials is inherent to its unique properties: it shows order in a preferred direction, like a solid, but it also flows, like a liquid, and as such, it easily responds to external stimuli such as electric fields.
The shape of the liquid crystal forming building blocks, which are typically elongated molecules, has an enormous impact on the way they pack into liquid crystals. While simple rod-like molecules form just five liquid crystal phases, banana-shaped molecules form more than fifty phases. These 'banana phases' were discovered 20 years ago and have since then initiated a true 'banana-mania' in the field of liquid crystals. The fact that even a small molecular curvature results in a new library of banana phases is not only fascinating from a fundamental point of view, but also from an industrial perspective, as they can switch their orientation under electric fields at ultra-fast speeds, making them ideal candidates for new highly responsive displays.
Despite the importance of banana phases, to date nobody has managed to look inside them and directly visualize the way the banana particles pack or move. This is largely due to the fact that molecular systems are extremely small and move very fast, making their direct imaging extremely challenging even when using the most advanced microscopes.
Carla Fernandez-Rico and co-workers used colloidal bananas and optical microscopy to study and visualize, for the first time, the inner details of banana-shaped liquid crystals with single particle resolution. Using image analysis techniques, they directly determined the positions and orientations of the banana-shaped particles, which enabled the identification of a range of different banana phases. Moreover, with their colloidal bananas they experimentally confirmed the existence of the so-called splay-bend nematic LC phase, which was predicted 40 years ago, but had remained elusive until now.
Multi-million pound grant paves way for step-change in fundamental chemistry research
Fundamental research into molecular collisions is to be advanced by a major grant awarded to Heriot-Watt University and the University of Oxford.
The £5.9 million Programme Grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has been awarded to a unique team drawn from the two centres of excellence for molecular scattering in the UK.
A new collaboration between Heriot-Watt and the University of Oxford, the project brings together the diverse, complementary experimental and theoretical expertise of both institutions to build on a core of fundamental and benchmark studies, to address previously intractable problems.
Colliding pairs of molecules in vacuum has become a uniquely powerful method for investigating the fundamental mechanisms through which molecules interact and either exchange energy or undergo a chemical reaction. Scattering experiments of this type have reached a high level of sophistication. Theoretical modelling has progressed in parallel, allowing the forces that act between the molecules to be calculated increasingly accurately and providing rigour to the interpretation of the mechanisms. However, until recently, these advanced methods have only been able to treat small molecular systems, typically containing no more than three atoms and often with only one set of chemical products formed via a single mechanism. This grant will enable a range of more complex systems to be tackled for the first time.
Professor Ken McKendrick, lead investigator at Heriot-Watt, explains the significance of the grant: "Our vision is to make a dramatic step-change to the field of molecular collisions by extending the range of systems that can be studied to encompass real-world applications. We aim to provide new types of data and, more importantly, new conceptual understanding to scientists working in areas spanning atmospheric chemistry, combustion, plasmas and catalysis. This opportunity can be grasped now because of technical advances in experimental methods and conceptual developments that exploit exponential growth in computing power.
The project will be instrumental in the development of the next generation of scientists, directly funding around 12 Postdoctoral Research Associates. Further funding will be leveraged for around 15 PhD students, and 20 final-year Masters students are expected to benefit from associated research-project work. The team will be trained to a high level in state-of-the-art laser, vacuum, electronics, computational and information technologies, in addition to gaining transferable skills for future employment in a wide range of sectors.
Professor Mark Brouard, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and co-investigator on the project, said: "We are absolutely delighted that the EPSRC has recognised the importance of fundamental science and its value in informing a diverse range of research fields. The Programme Grant brings together a great team of scientists and we are really looking forward to working collaboratively with our colleagues at Heriot-Watt to cement and enhance the UK's long-standing reputation for excellence in the field of molecular scattering. The award of this grant represents a major boost to fundamental research to better understand chemical reactions."
Tackling Antibiotic Resistance - ENABLE Project
An Oxford impact case study has highlighted the work by Jürgen Brem and colleagues in the Department of Chemistry are collaborating with academic and industry partners to develop therapies tackling antibiotic resistance.
The project is supported by the European Innovative Medicines Initiative funded ENABLE (European Gram-Negative Antibacterial Engine) programme, which includes universities, pharmaceutical companies and contract research organisations in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.
Project Leader, Jürgen Brem, explains the importance of the collaboration. "Getting a new drug or therapy from 'bench to clinic' is normally a slow process. The ENABLE network is a collaboration of extremely committed and experienced people, with a real passion for antibiotic research. Being able to draw on the network, and the rapid development of new knowledge by partners with specialist expertise, have been crucial in getting the new drug candidate to this stage."
A key goal of the project will be creating a therapy which will also be useful to developing countries. "Producing something for countries in the Global South is part of our vision," explains Brem. "Places such as India, Pakistan, Brazil and China are particularly affected by antibiotic resistance but cannot afford expensive new drugs. Making a drug that is losing its effectiveness work again makes a lot of sense in this context."
#DiverseSTEM: A Global Effort
Leading scientific presses around the world have set aside their usual competitive priorities and agreed to simultaneously publish an article outlining how the scientific community can nurture values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The article succinctly drafts the key limitations of maintaining the systemic inequality of the status quo and outlines how we should all be part of this transformation.
In June 2020, a team of talented, outspoken, diverse scientists from more than 30 institutions worldwide prepared a joint, positive, forward-looking declaration of what "home" in science should look like. The team included leading academics, students, and a Nobel laureate.
The article "A diverse view of science to catalyse change" is co-published in: Nature Chemistry, Chemical Science , Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Canadian Journal of Chemistry, Croatica Chemica Acta and the World Economic Forum. The accompanying Nature Q&A "Diverse Views in Science" is accessible.
According to Dr Michael Bojdys, a contributor, the willingness of the publishing bodies to come together spoke both to the universal nature of the issues at stake and to the fact that the paper was bound to generate significant attention.
The significance and value of this contribution warranted an ongoing Nature community blog that will invite participants from around the world to continue chiming in on these themes.
"Diversity makes it possible to do things that you could not conceive of otherwise," added Sir Fraser Stoddart, co-author and Nobel Laureate 2016, "I know it works."
Dr Martine Abboud, a Junior Research Fellow in Chemical Biology at Oxford Chemistry, is one of the contributors to the article.
Figure credit: Andy Brunning/Compound Interest
Davy Medal for Professor Ben Davis
Professor Ben Davis has been awarded the Davy Medal from the Royal Society.
Professor Davis, of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and the Department of Chemistry, was awarded the medal for inventing powerful chemical methods that directly manipulate complex biological molecules, enabling elucidation and control of biological function and mechanism in vitro and in vivo, beyond the limits of genetics.
The Davy Medal is awarded annually to an outstanding researcher in the field of chemistry and is accompanied by a gift of 2000 GBP. It is named after Humphrey Davy FRS, the chemist and inventor of the Davy Lamp and was first awarded in 1877.
On receiving the award, Professor Davis said: 'It's deeply humbling to receive this medal, given the people who have received it before, several of whom are personal heroes for me. In essence, it's a testament to the drive and hard work of all the talented people I have been lucky enough to work with. I would like to thank them for their outstanding work, ambition and passion for science. Of course, too, this work would also not have been possible without the support of many key partners including UKRI and the EU.'
Oxford Nanopore partners with UK GOV on COVID-19 test
Oxford Nanopore today announces an agreement with the UK's Department of Health and Social Care, to roll out its novel LamPORE test. This will support the UK's efforts to manage the continued reduction of COVID-19 and containment of new cases, now and through the winter cold and flu season.
Under the agreement, an initial 450k LamPORE SARS-CoV-2 tests will be made available for use by a number of NHS testing laboratories. As well as providing a large number of tests for existing labs, the programme will help the UK to understand the different use cases for the technology, for example the potential asymptomatic screening of frontline staff.
LamPORE is designed to be deployed on Oxford Nanopore's desktop device (GridION) or palm-sized device (MinION Mk1C), providing the capacity of processing up to 15,000 samples a day or 2,000 samples a day respectively. It is well suited to use in a central laboratory for high-throughput sample processing, or near-community 'pop-up lab'. LamPORE results can be generated in under two hours. The approach of having testing centres available in more locations combined with this speed supports rapid turnaround of results. Fast results can help precise isolation and therefore supports public health strategies to prevent onwards transmission of the virus.
Professor Malcolm Green FRS
The Department is sad to announce the death of Professor Malcolm Green FRS. He was one of the towering global figures in the field of organometallic chemistry and was known for his creativity in devising new compounds and in pioneering new ways of making them. He was awarded the prestigious Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1995 "In recognition of his contribution to organometallic chemistry with particular application to catalytic reactions". He was an inspiration to the huge number of undergraduates, Part II & D.Phil. students and postdocs whom he taught or guided, and all will have their own fond memories of him.
Malcolm graduated from Acton Technical College in 1956 and obtained his PhD from Imperial College in 1959 in the group of Geoffrey Wilkinson. He was briefly an Assistant Lecturer in Cambridge before moving to Oxford for the rest of his career, becoming Fellow of Inorganic Chemistry at Balliol College in 1963 and a University Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry in 1965. He was a Royal Society Senior Research Fellow from 1979-86, and in 1989 he was elected to the Statutory Professorship of Inorganic Chemistry and Headship of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, becoming a Fellow of St Catherine's College, until his retirement in 2004. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1985 and was the recipient of many other major awards and prizes from learned societies around the world.
He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him. Details of arrangements for a memorial service will be announced in due course.
Chemical Science pick of the week
A collaborative study from the Mackenzie, Timmel and Aarts Groups has been highlighted as a 'Pick of the Week' in Chemical Science, the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. The publication details the first realisation of confocal microscopy as a technique for probing the magnetic sensitivity of chemical processes in both solid and liquid state samples, including biological macromolecules. This article also reports the successful detection of orientationally dependent magnetic field effects in a singlet fission material. The work has implications for future studies into the chemical compass behaviour of both avian blue light photoreceptor proteins.
Congratulations to Professor Peter Edwards and his team who have been Highly Commended in the Teamwork category of the Vice-Chancellor Innovation Awards 2020
Congratulations to Professor Peter Edwards and his team who have been Highly Commended in the Teamwork category of the Vice-Chancellor Innovation Awards 2020 for their work on The Circularity of Plastics!
The Vice-Chancellor Innovation Awards celebrate research-led innovation that is having societal or economic impact. Building on the awards two years ago a new category of Policy Engagement has been added to those for Teamwork, Building Capacity, Inspiring Leadership, and Early Career Innovator.
Winners and Highly Commended entries were selected by the Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Awards panel chaired by Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation, and comprising academics from each of the four Divisions and Professional Services staff who support impact and innovation across the collegiate University
You can find out more about the Awards and all of 2020's Winners and Highly Commended entries on the Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Awards pages.
Gabriel Moise, DPhil student in the Timmel group, has won the prestigious JEOL medal for his talk "Spin delocalisation and fine-structure mysteries of the photoexcited triplet state of metalloporphyrins ". The prize competition open to final year doctorate students and postdocs in the field of ESR was held - this year in virtual format - as part of the 53rd meeting of the RSC ESR spectroscopy group.
Finalist of the Reaxys PhD Prize 2020
Mr. Francesco Ibba has been selected as one of the 45 finalists for the Reaxys PhD Prize 2020
Launched in 2010, the Reaxys PhD Prize celebrates innovative and rigorous research by ambitious early career chemical sciences researchers. This year's competition maintained the high standards of previous years: over 400 entries from around the globe were rigorously examined by the Review Committee to arrive at the 45 finalists.
"This year continues the tradition of excellence of the Reaxys Prize in attracting hundreds of outstanding applications from all across the globe," said Reaxys Advisory Board member Professor Donna Huryn, a Principal Investigator at the University of Pittsburgh Chemical Diversity Center. "Equally impressive are the 45 finalists, and that they represent the breadth of our field in terms of geography as well as discipline. I am looking forward to what will be an exceptional symposium."
The 45 finalists are invited to attend the virtual Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium that will be held from September 30 to October 2, 2020. While normally an in-person event, this year's celebratory gathering will be online to ensure that all finalists can attend-regardless of any travel restrictions that may be in place in their home countries. A pre-registration link is available on the symposium page for anyone interested in joining the online event. The event will feature talks, including a keynote presentation from renowned University of California chemist Professor Bruce Lipshutz and a virtual poster session. The organizers also have special plans to support networking.
Nature Chemical Biology article
Collaborative work between the groups of Emmanuel Levy and Sam Safran (Weizmann Institute), Lorenzo Rovigatti (Rome Sapienza), Emanuele Locatelli (University of Vienna) and Jonathan Doye has appeared in Nature Chemical Biology. The article introduces a synthetic system of interacting dimeric and tetrameric protein complexes that undergoes liquid-liquid phase separation in yeast cells. The phase diagram of this two-component system is mapped out both in experiment and using theory and simulations, allowing the effects of the interaction strength between the dimers and tetramers on the phase diagram to be explored.
COVID-19 Safe Practical Chemistry
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the way practical chemistry is taught has had to change. In Oxford, we have developed a series of novel computational and simulation activities that can be completed online - a paper is in press, describing an enzyme kinetics simulation developed with colleagues in Biochemistry and Medical Sciences. To ensure what we offer our students is as good as it can be, and in the spirit of collaboration, the CTL team set up an online international forum, known as #drylabs20. This is allowing like-minded university teachers to discuss the plethora of different teaching methods that may be used. This work is discussed in a recent Chemistry World article.
Vice-Chancellor's Education Awards Winners 2020
New for 2020, the Vice-Chancellor's Education Awards celebrate high-quality education across the collegiate University - recognising new and innovative approaches to teaching, and the steps being taken to further students' educational experience at Oxford.
The winners of these awards have demonstrated valuable projects that have a positive impact. They are also excellent examples of collaboration within Oxford and further afield. The University is constantly innovating in education for the benefit of our students and the wider collegiate University and these awards give us the chance to recognise this excellency.
The Chemistry Teaching Laboratory staff were winners for 'The design, implementation and evaluation of a truly integrated chemistry practical course for undergraduates - the first in the world?'
Monitoring Ocean Ecosystems
A new collaborative programme between Chemistry and Earth Sciences has been launched by the Oxford Martin School. The 1M programme on monitoring ocean ecosystems is based on the work of Professor Richard Compton and Professors Ros Rickaby and Heather Bouman in Earth Sciences. The programme aims to develop and undertake preliminary field testing on a prototype for a low cost sensor technology to continuously count and monitor oceanic phytoplankton and the calcium carbonate shells that they produce as part of their lifecycle. This sensor technology could be transformative in our understanding of the future global ocean carbon cycle and ecosystem status. Establishing a baseline of phytoplankton productivity and diversity could provide vital information for identifying environmental pressures, as well as providing an early warning system on developments like algal blooms, which can be harmful to fisheries and conservation efforts.
RSC 2020 Tilden Prize for Professor Christiane Timmel
Professor Christiane Timmel has been named the winner of the Tilden Prize for her seminal contributions to the fields of Spin Chemistry and Electron Paramagnetic Resonance of spin polarised systems. Christiane's work is focused on molecular structures that interact with magnetic fields to explain their physical, chemical and biological properties. Her primary focus has been centred on the study of the 'radical pair mechanism' - which is thought to lie at the heart of birds' use 'magnetoreception' to migrate at night. On receiving the award, Christiane said: "The list of previous prize winners induced in me an overpowering feeling of humility which was swiftly joined by one of deep gratitude, of course to the Royal Society of Chemistry for awarding me this prize and my colleagues who nominated me for believing my work had justified this prestigious award. Most importantly though, I cannot express my gratitude enough to my group, present and past, on whose behalf I accept this award. My students and postdocs have worked with unparalleled dedication and scientific talent, but above all, have always stood by me, in good times and bad. Together with my wonderful collaborators both in Oxford and further afield, it has been a group effort that has made this work possible and extremely enjoyable."
RSC 2020 Corday-Morgan Prize for Professor Madhavi Krishnan
Professor Madhavi Krishnan has been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry's Corday-Morgan Prize for her invention of a "field free" trap for confining and manipulating a single colloidal particle or molecule, enabling accurate and precise measurements of molecular charge in aqueous solution. Not only does this new measurement technique open up hitherto unforeseen avenues in fundamental science, but it also has the potential to impact the diagnosis and detection of disease states. Madhavi's research group is pioneering the use of an "electrostatic fluidic trap" to realise new experiments in the spatial control, manipulation, and measurement of nanoscale matter in solution, focusing on biological molecules such as proteins and DNA. On receiving the prize, Madhavi said: "I feel extremely honoured at the decision of the Royal Society of Chemistry to recognise our work in the field of single molecule nanoscience, and am deeply grateful for the distinction. The award at this time is an extraordinary source of motivation and will propel us forward in our ongoing and future endeavours with even greater vigour."
RSC 2020 Lord Lewis Prize for Visiting Professor Vernon Gibson
Professor Vernon Gibson of the University of Manchester, Imperial College London, and Visiting Professor in the Edwards group at Oxford, has been named the winner of the Lord Lewis Prize. Professor Gibson won the award for his seminal contributions to fundamental and applied inorganic chemistry, and for critical work in policy setting at the interface of academia with industry and government. Along with his academic work, Professor Gibson has worked closely with industry, becoming Chief Scientist at BP and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Defence. In recognition of his achievements, he also receives a Â£5,000 cash prize and a medal. On receiving the award, Professor Gibson said: "I am deeply humbled and honoured to be chosen to receive the Lord Lewis Prize, and do so on behalf of the many talented students, postdocs and colleagues with whom I've been privileged to share a wonderful scientific journey.' Professor Pete Edwards FRS, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, commented: "Not only was Jack (Lord) Lewis one of the most innovative and influential scientists of his generation, he also played a pivotal role in the implementation of science and education policy across academia, industry and government. With his outstanding scientific contributions and innovative and critically-important policy work across industry and government, it is indeed fitting that our distinguished colleague Vernon Gibson is the recipient of this most prestigious award. I am absolutely delighted that Vernon's contributions have been recognized in this manner."
RSC 2020 Norman Heatley Award for Professor Andrew Baldwin
Professor Andrew Baldwin has been named the winner of the Norman Heatley Award for his development and application of chemical methods for understanding the biology of membraneless organelles. Andrew's work focuses on large protein assemblies, or 'aggregates', whereby one of the aggregates is linked to disease and the other dictates normal cellular function. Both neurodegenerative disorders and dementias are associated with proteins aggregating and forming 'amyloid fibrils' in the brain, with Andrew's research group studying the behaviour of membraneless organelles - protein aggregates that form in cells at different times to carry out a wide range of biochemical duties. On receiving the Norman Heatley award, Andrew said: "I am very honoured to receive this award. The credit for this work lies substantially with the group members and collaborators and I am very grateful to have worked with these tremendous people."
RSC 2020 Bader Award for Professor Ed Anderson
Professor Ed Anderson has been named the winner of the Bader Award for his creative contributions to organic synthesis and synthetic methodology. Ed's work involves creating molecules with function, and creating new ways to make them more efficiently and selectively for synthesis as antiparasitic agents, antibiotics and anticancer molecules. His research team are also developing new chemical reactions that use metals as catalysts, such as the synthesis of small cage-like molecules for use as novel building blocks in drug design and the exploration of reactivity of unusual alkynes. On receiving the Bader award, as well as a cash prize of £2000 and a medal, Ed said: "I was honoured to receive this award, and also delighted to have this recognition of the hard work of the many students and postdocs in my group who have contributed to our research."
Nature Article: Imaging Single Glycans
Carbohydrates are the predominant biopolymer on Earth, responsible for many structural and modulatory roles all across biology from mammals to plants. They are complex, flexible and many biologically important oligosaccharides are relatively small.
A collaborative between Rauschenbach group (Univ. Oxford), Seeberger group (MPI Potsdam) and Kern group (MPI Stuttgart) shows the direct spatial imaging of glycan molecules. Isolated by mass-selective, soft-landing electrospray ion-beam deposition individual glycan molecules were imaged by low temperature scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) at sub-nanometer resolution revealing connectivity and allowing for discrimination between regio-isomers.
CogX Awards 2020 Shortlisted
The Chemistry Dept spin-out Oxford Drug Design is shortlisted for one of the prestigious CogX awards in the category Best AI in Health.
The CogX Awards are the most exciting celebration of innovation and transformational opportunities in the world - a time to give the companies and individuals making a difference a platform.
Professor Peter Day FRS
The Department is sad to announce the death of Professor Peter Day FRS. His major contributions have included systematising and rationalising the properties of inorganic mixed-valence compounds (The Robin-Day classification), and in the synthesis of numerous and diverse complex solids in the search for unusual magnetic and electronic materials properties.
Peter was an undergraduate and then a D.Phil. student in Chemistry at Wadham College and completed a D.Phil. thesis entitled "Light induced charge transfer in solids" under the supervision of Bob Williams in 1965. He was a Junior Research Fellow (1963-65) at St John's College, and then Official Fellow and Tutor in Inorganic Chemistry (1965-88) at St John's and a University Lecturer. He took up the Directorship of the Institut Laue Langevin in Grenoble in 1988, and then returned to the UK in 1991 as the Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain where he was the Fullerian Professor of Chemistry.
Since 2008 he was an Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of London. He was elected FRS in 1986 and received numerous awards from learned societies around the world. The Royal Society of Chemistry honoured him by inaugurating the Peter Day award in Materials Chemistry in 2008, reflecting his championing of this discipline. He will be sadly missed by many around the World. Details of arrangements for a memorial service will be announced in due course.
Ancient blood lines
A collaboration between the Benesch group and researchers at the Universities of Chicago, Texas, and Nebraska have identified the evolutionary "missing link" through which haemoglobin - the essential four-part protein complex that transports oxygen in the blood of virtually all vertebrate animals -
evolved from simple precursors. And they found that it took just two mutations more than 400 million years ago to trigger the emergence of modern haemoglobin's structure and function. The study was published online in Nature on May 20.
On the cover of Angewante Chemie Int.
A cobalt norbornane sigma-alkane complex was synthesized by a single-crystal to single-crystal solid/gas hydrogenation from a norbornadiene precursor, as described by S. A. Macgregor, A. S. Weller et al. in their Communication. The cover picture shows the title cobalt sigma-alkane complex within its anion cage, with the van der Waals surface highlighted. The non-covalent
interactions provided by the anion cage are essential for the stabilization of this remarkable complex. The cover illustration was designed by Karl Harrison.
Highlighted In Chemical Science
Collaborative work between the Duarte and Ed Anderson groups, and led by DPhil student Alistair Sterling, has just been published in Chemical Science. This work explores the unusual reactivity of [1.1.1]propellane, a ubiquitous precursor to bicyclo[1.1.1]pentanes (BCPs), motifs of high value in pharmaceutical and materials research. This study challenges existing dogma (i.e. the so-called â€˜strain-releaseâ€™ driving force) and provides a unifying framework to rationalise the stability and broad reactivity of this molecule, inspiring new methods and applications yet to be invented.
Exploiting Heterodinuclear Synergy to Prepare Better Catalysts for Carbon Dioxide Utilization
A paper by the Williams Research Group, published and highlighted (in news and views) in Nature Chemistry, provides new insight into intermetallic synergy in catalysts for the copolymerization of carbon dioxide and epoxides. Carbon dioxide copolymerization is an industrially-relevant means to valorise waste gases and improve sustainability in polymer manufacturing. The products, aliphatic polycarbonates, are used to make polyurethanes or plastic films - both products could be useful to add value to carbon capture and storage technologies. The efficiency of any carbon dioxide and epoxide copolymerization process depends on the choice of the polymerization catalyst, and the research highlights a new catalyst design strategy. Specifically, a heterodinuclear catalyst, with both Mg(II) and Co(II) coordinated by a macrocyclic ligand, shows some of the highest reported activities in carbon dioxide copolymerization and operates efficiently under low (atmospheric) carbon dioxide pressures. The heterodinuclear Mg(II)Co(II) catalyst shows enhanced performance compared to either of the homodinuclear analogues (Mg(II)Mg(II) and Co(II)Co(II) complexes) or to mixtures of them; this finding suggests synergy between the Mg(II) and Co(II) metal centres. The article investigates the intramolecular synergy using polymerization kinetics experiments and reveals that the Mg(II) centre reduces the transition state entropy whilst the Co(II) reduces the transition state enthalpy compared to homodinuclear catalysts. The better catalyst performances arise from this intramolecular synergy between the two metals, which adopt distinct roles and mediate each other's reactivity during catalysis.
Cleaner methods for deuterium insertion will have applications across the life sciences
Deuterium is used in applications such as analytical chemistry and drug development. More recently deuterium has been used in an active pharmaceutical ingredient to prevent formation of a toxic metabolite. Research by the HydRegen team in the Vincent group has led to a new approach for deuterium insertion using the cheapest and cleanest deuterium source - D2O. New methods for deuterium insertion may help unlock the power of the kinetic isotope effect in drugs, providing more effective medicines with lower side effects.
RSC poster prize win for Richard Avadanutei
Congratulations to Part II student Richard Avadanutei from the Dr Malcolm Stewart group, winner of the RSC Poster Twitter Conference in the Higher Education category for his poster entitled 'Optimising and implementing a first year skills workshop on solid-state chemistry and investigating its pedagogical effects using an intervention design in a control study.'
The poster conference, held online over 24 hours on March 3rd, attracted 4700 attendees, uniting the global chemistry community and bringing together presenters and attendees to share their research, network and engage in scientific debate. Scientific discussions took place between presenters and attendees at every career stage, with over 9900 tweets leading to a potential audience of 32 million Twitter users.
Oxford Nanopore leads sequencing coronavirus
Oxford Nanopore is working with a number of public health laboratories, in China and elsewhere, to support the rapid sequencing of the novel coronavirus that was first seen in Wuhan, China.
Sequencing the virus can support 'genomic epidemiology'- characterising the virus and helping public health authorities to understand the identity of the virus, whether it is changing and how it is being transmitted - all in conjunction with other epidemiological data.
The BBC highlighted work here in the UK to use the Oxford Nanopore MinION to rapidly sequence each case of coronavirus so far in the UK, so that the individual mutations could be tracked and thus discover the pathways of the spread of infections.
Two outstanding Oxford Chemists selected for Lindau Nobel meeting
Congratulations to Sebastian Kopp and Dr Vanessa Restrepo-Schild who have been selected to represent the University at the 70th Lindau Nobel meeting to be held in Germany from June 28 to July 3. Vanessa is a postdoctoral researcher in the Bayley group, and Sebastian is a DPhil student in the Anderson group and OxICFM CDT. Sebastian and Vanessa will join around 660 other outstanding young scientists this year and have the unique opportunity to meet around 70 Nobel Laureates for cross-generational and interdisciplinary exchange.
Francesco Ibba takes his research to Westminster
Francesco is attending Parliament to present his findings to politicians and expert judges as part of STEM for Britain 2020. Originally from Genova (Italy), 29, is a final year PhD student at the University of Oxford in the Gouverneur group. Francesco's poster describing his research on fluorine chemistry will be judged against fellow scientists' research in the only national competition of its kind.
"I am thrilled to take part to this wonderful initiative, I believe that a crucial aspect of doing research is to popularize science and make it accessible to everyone. I am looking forward to share my passion for chemistry during my day in Westminster."
The final of the 2020 STEM for BRITAIN event will take place at the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Westminster on Monday 9th March 2020. The Attlee Suite is named after Clement Attlee, the first Labour Prime Minister and University of Oxford alumni, who was responsible for establishing the Welfare State.
"This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country's best young researchers."
"These early career engineers, mathematicians and scientists are the architects of our future and STEM for BRITAIN is politicians' best opportunity to meet them and understand their work."
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Biology, The Physiological Society, the Council for the Mathematical Sciences, and the Nutrition Society with financial support from the Clay Mathematics Institute, United Kingdom Research and Innovation, Warwick Manufacturing Group, Society of Chemical Industry, Institute of Biomedical Science, the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Biochemical Society, Biotherapy Services Ltd, IEEE Communications Society and the Comino Foundation.
On the cover of Nature Chemistry: Bigging up aromaticity
Work from Oxford on large aromatic rings is featured on the cover of the March issue of Nature Chemistry. The authors of the paper are Michel Rickhaus, Michael Jirasek, Lara Tejerina, Henrik Gotfredsen, Martin D. Peeks, RenÃ©e Haver, Hua-Wei Jiang, Timothy D. W. Claridge and Harry L. Anderson.
Green ammonia could slash emissions from farming - and power ships of the future
In an article first published in the Conversation, Professor Bill David writes about a Royal Society report that shows producing zero-carbon green ammonia could cut global carbon emissions by almost 2 per cent.
Benoit Darlot takes his research to Parliament
Mr Benoit Darlot is attending Parliament to present his findings to politicians and expert judges as part of STEM for Britain 2020. Originally from Le Mans in France, Benoit, 29, is a DPhil candidate in Synthesis for Biology and Medicine at the University of Oxford's Department of Chemistry. Benoit's poster describing his research on new molecules derived from tick saliva proteins to address inflammation will be judged against fellow scientists' research in the only national competition of its kind.
Benoit was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament. On presenting his research in Parliament, he said: 'It is an incredible honor to have been selected to present my work at the STEM for BRITAIN event. To showcase state of the art research funded by taxpayers to law makers is a great opportunity to emphasize the importance and use of public funding in science. I hope that during that day I can give awareness about what academics in partnership with industry can deliver to address a serious public health issue, in my case inflammatory diseases.'
STEM for Britain, which will take place at Portcullis House on Monday 9 March, is an opportunity for the UK's brightest and best early career scientists to share their research with MPs. Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said: 'This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country's best young researchers. These early career engineers, mathematicians and scientists are the architects of our future and STEM for BRITAIN is politicians' best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.'
Benoit's research has been entered into the chemistry, mathematics and physics session of the competition, which will end in a gold, silver and bronze prize-giving ceremony. Judged by leading academics, the gold medalist receives 2000 GBP, while silver and bronze receive 1250 and 750 respectively.
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Biology, The Physiological Society, the Council for the Mathematical Sciences, and the Nutrition Society with financial support from the Clay Mathematics Institute, United Kingdom Research and Innovation, Warwick Manufacturing Group, Society of Chemical Industry, Institute of Biomedical Science, the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, the Biochemical Society, Biotherapy Services Ltd, IEEE Communications Society and the Comino Foundation.
Royal Society Pairing Fellow: From Lab Bench to Backbench
Oxford scientist visits Westminster
Dr Martine Abboud, a JRF at Kellogg College and a member of the Schofield group, has been selected as one out of 30 scientists to take part in the Royal Society Pairing Scheme. Dr Abboud will be swapping a lab coat for legislation when she visits the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall for a week in Westminster, as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society with support from the Government Office of Science. The Royal Society's pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK.
During her visit, Dr Abboud will shadow Anneliese Dodds MP (Oxford East) and learn about her work. As well as attending seminars, panel discussions and a mock Select Committee about how evidence is used in policy making. The visit will provide Dr Abboud with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how her research can be used to make evidence-based decisions. It will also give Dodds MP the opportunity to investigate the science behind her decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.
Dodds MP will get hands on experience of scientific research when she dons a lab coat to visit Dr Abboud at Oxford Chemistry and Kellogg College later this year.
Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said, "It is crucial that we invest in the relationship between scientists and politicians, so that either profession can articulate and appreciate the pressures confronted by both. The Royal Society Pairing Scheme does just this, endowing scientists with a fascinating insight into parliament, and connecting policymakers with the best innovative thinking in the world, and in the process, enabling both to draw from and engage with the mutual expertise needed to address the challenges of our time."
Vacancy disorder study published in Nature
Nature has published an article from Andrew Goodwin's group that concerns the nature of disordered pore networks in Prussian Blue analogues. The article is one of the first key studies to exploit three-dimensional pair-distribution function methods and is the subject of a related 'News & Views' article and journal podcast. The work was carried out with collaborators in France, Sweden, Mexico, Switzerland, and Belgium, and was supported by the ERC and Leverhulme Trusts
MPLS Impact Awards 2020 winners
MPLS Impact Awards aim to recognise and reward researchers at all career stages, for research that has had, or will have significant social or economic impact.
For the COMMERCIAL IMPACT AWARD category, Professor Justin Benesch and Professor Philipp Kukura, Department of Chemistry: awarded for contributions made by Justin and Philipp to the development of technology for a new way of measuring mass: mass photometry
Professor Darren J Dixon Opens Pharmaron's New Chemistry Laboratories at Hoddesdon
Pharmaron's ties with Oxford Chemistry were made even stronger on Wednesday when Professor Dixon appeared as the guest speaker at the Hoddesdon site and performed the official Lab opening ceremony. The labs are part of a multi-million pound inward investment in UK science by Pharmaron; a CRO that offers integrated solutions for clients' needs from Discovery services through to the clinic. The investment at Hoddesdon in chemistry is intended to service the rapid growth in the uptake of those services by western clients.
Photo: DJD with Pharmaron's Dr Kevin Foote (VP, Head of Drug Discovery Services Europe) and Dr Anthony Davies (Senior Vice President Process R&D, Process Chemistry)
The largest aromatic ring: published in Nature Chemistry and highlighted in Chemistry World
A paper from Harry Anderson's group in Nature Chemistry (DOI: 10.1038/s41557-019-0398-3) shows that Huckel's simple 4n + 2 rule correctly predicts the aromatic ring currents in rings with up to 162 pi-electrons. The work is highlighted in Chemistry World. See also 'Behind the Paper' https://go.nature.com/30CS7pa.
Duarte group work in JACS
New work from Tom Young in the Duarte Group has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The article introduces a simple and efficient computational methodology to evaluate binding and catalysis in self-assembled metallo-cages; revealing how subtle structural differences in the cage framework affect the catalytic Diels-Alder proficiencies of two homologous Pd2L4 metallocages. This research provides new opportunities in the design catalytically active supramolecular cages.
Sir Jack Baldwin FRS
Memorial service for Professor Sir Jack Baldwin
We are sorry to announce that the Memorial Service for Professor Sir Jack Baldwin will have to be postponed to later in the year. An announcement of the new date will be made as soon as possible
It is with great sadness that we inform you that Prof. Sir Jack E. Baldwin passed away last weekend. JEB was one of the heroes of Organic Chemistry and will be missed across the globe.
Sir Jack E. Baldwin FRS (8 Aug 1938- 5th Jan 2020), JEB to his group, was a colossus of Organic Chemistry. Following PhD work at Imperial College with Sir Derek Barton (who described him as his best student), he took up positions at Pennsylvania State University then MIT, where he met his beloved wife, Christine. In 1978 he was appointed Waynflete Professor of Chemistry, a position he held until retirement in 2005, and Head of the Dyson Perrins Laboratory. Along with Perkin, Robinson, and Jones he was one of only four holders of the Waynflete chair in the 20th century. He made many contributions to Organic Chemistry, famously in defining widely used rules for ring closure reactions, providing the first chemical insight into how penicillins are made, inventing reactions, biomimetic studies, and many beautiful total syntheses, as described in more than 700 papers. As Head of the Dyson Perrins Laboratory he upgraded its facilities and revolutionised the type of work done there, building links between Organic Chemistry and basic biological research. JEB's passion for mechanistic aspects of Organic Chemistry was communicated to generations of young coworkers, who have gone on to successful careers in academia and industry across the globe. As in work, he lived retirement with Christine to the full, in particular enjoying extensive scientific reading, good food, fine wine, fast cars, and his Labrador dogs.
Arylhydrocarbon Receptor as the molecular target of ezutromid
A collaboration between the Russell group (Chemistry and Pharmacology) and the Davies group (Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics) has identified, via a chemical proteomics and phenotypic profiling strategy, the arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR) as the molecular target of ezutromid, the utrophin modulator that recently completed a Phase 2 clinical trial in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients.
Ezutromid (formerly SMT C1100) was identified through phenotypic screening approach, and developed as a first-in-class utrophin modulator for the treatment of the severe muscle wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The clinical trial showed promising efficacy and evidence of target engagement after 24 weeks of treatment, but these effects were not seen after the full 48 weeks of the trial. Without knowledge of the mechanism of action of ezutromid, it was difficult to rationalise the lack of sustained clinical efficacy, and development of ezutromid was discontinued.
In this work, we demonstrate through a series of target identification and validation studies that ezutromid binds to AhR with high affinity, and antagonism of AhR by ezutromid leads to utrophin upregulation, thereby confirming AhR as a viable target for utrophin functional replacement therapies. This work paves the way for the first target-based disease modifying drug discovery program in DMD.
Poster prize for Laura Bickerton
Laura Bickerton (Langton group) has won the Chemical Science outstanding poster prize at the RSC Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry meeting held at the University of Kent, for her work on transmembrane anion transport carried out in collaboration with the Duarte and Beer groups.
RSC BMCS Presentation Prize
Jessica Reynolds (Conway Group and SBM CDT) has won first prize at the 13th BMCS Postgraduate Symposium held at the University of Cambridge for her oral presentation on design and synthesis of chemical tools for probing the function of the epigenetic reader protein TRIM33.
PDB Molecule of the Month
Schofield Group structural work on oxygen sensing systems that contributed in part to this years Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (awarded to Sir Peter Ratcliffe, Bill Kaelin and Greg Semenza) are currently highlighted as "Molecule of the Month" at the RCSB PDB. Prolyl and asparaginyl hydroxylase enzymes modify the hypoxia inducible factor transcription factor and modulate its activity. A drug which targets the prolyl hydroxylases for the treatment of anaemia in CKD patients has recently been approved for clinical use (Roxadustat, Ai Rui Zhuo) in China and Japan and other drugs have recently completed Phase III clinical trials in the US.
Michael Booth Biochemical Society Biotechnology Award Medal and Lecture
Dr Michael Booth was presented with the 2019 Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award in Biotechnology at the Synthetic Biology UK 2019 Conference at the University of Warwick on 9th December 2019. Professor John McCarthy of the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre presented Michael with his Biochemical Society Medal. At the conference Michael presented his award lecture 'Controllable synthetic tissues from droplet networks'
Professor Susan Perkin's Research Published in PNAS
New work from James Hallett and Alex Smith in the Perkin group resolves a long-standing mystery about dynamic transitions occurring in liquids confined to films or pores of molecular dimensions.
Previous reports of 'solidification' and 'superlubricity' appeared to be conflicting, but the new experiments reveal the details of how each of these phenomena occur and explains how they can be reconciled.
Selective substrate processing at single-atom resolution in a nanoscale tube
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Chemistry have constructed a tubular protein nanoreactor that can selectively process polymers with atomic specificity.
Selective processing is achieved by nanoscale alignment of a substrate within a protein nanotube modified with a reactive group. The substrate is first pulled into the nanotube and extended by an applied electric field. Only substrates that are properly aligned, by design, with the reactive group on the nanotube are then processed. The system is versatile, allowing the reaction site to be altered by changing the design of the nanoreactor, the substrate, or both to obtain the desired alignment.
Using a collection of tubular nanoreactors, the authors processed various substrates containing a disulfide bond at a precise sulfur atom, demonstrating the ability to distinguish between two (or more) similar sites within a given functional group (regioselectivity) and within a given molecule (site-selectivity). Substrate processing was monitored at the single-molecule level, allowing the type of adduct formed to be identified based on the ionic conductance of the nanoreactor. Selective processing would not have been achievable in bulk solution, where differentiation of similar reactive sites is difficult if not impossible. Substrate turnover was also achieved by allowing a small molecule to diffuse into the nanotube to regenerate the reactive site after each cycle.
The full paper, Catalytic site-selective substrate processing within a tubular nanoreactor, can be read in the journal Nature Nanotechnology DOI: 10.1038/s41565-019-0579-7
ERC Consolidator Grant for Emily Flashman
Dr Emily Flashman has been awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Consolidator grants are designed to support outstanding researchers at the career stage at which they may still be consolidating their own independent team or programme, and applicants must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their proposals. Emily's award will fund her research on plant oxygen-sensing enzymes and how to manipulate them in order to make plants better able to tolerate flooding.
Novel Gouverneur group Fluorination Catalyst now commercially available
A novel bis-urea organocatalyst for asymmetric fluorination with metal fluoride is now commercially available on Sigma Aldrich-Merck website.
Recently developed in the Gouverneur group (Science and J.A.C.S.), this novel class of phase-transfer catalysts allows for the first time the use of safe and low-cost alkali metal fluorides in asymmetric catalysis. By overcoming the intrinsic poor solubility of KF (and CsF) in common organic solvents, these catalysts form a soluble tridentate hydrogen-bonded complex with metal fluorides thus enabling highly efficient enantioselective transformations.
Young Modellers Forum 2019 Prizes
Alistair Sterling (Duarte and E. Anderson group) and Stamatia Zavistsanou (Duarte group) have won prizes at the Young Modellers Forum 2019 held at the University of Greenwich on the 29th of November 2019 (https://www.mgms.org/WordPress/conferences/ymf-2019/). Alistair, 3rd-year DPhil student in the SBM CDT programme, won a prize for his talk on the reactivity of [1.1.1]propellane. Stamatia, 2nd-year Dphil student, won a poster prize for her work on machine learning for catalyst design.
Compton group research develops novel pH sensors
A novel carbon-based electrode, which is electrochemically optimised to perform pH measurements over a wide range is the subject of a new licensing deal between Oxford University Innovation (OUI), the research commercialisation arm of Oxford University, and electrochemical sensor developer ANB Sensors.
These sensors are the latest in a long line of commercial pH sensors developed in the Department of Chemistry by the Compton group. ANB Sensors have expertise in developing pH calibration free pH sensors, with applications in industries ranging from water management, ocean research, environmental monitoring through to chemical processing and pharmaceuticals.
Professor Compton said: "pH is crucial in many areas such as water, food, oil, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and is thought to be the most frequently made analytical measurement. Yet, despite the vital role of pH sensing, the vast majority of measurements still rely on the glass pH electrode developed by Beckmann almost 100 years ago! My group in Oxford has worked for two decades on providing robust, accurate, self-calibrated alternatives for pH determination, suitable for use in all possible applications."
Dr Nathan Lawrence, CTO of ANB sensors continues: "Richard's group have made a significant step forward in developing this novel carbon-based electrode, which is electrochemically optimised to perform pH measurements over a wide range. It is also suitable for pH measurements at varying temperatures. The carbon-based material is readily available, cost-effective and doesn't require any extra reagents or surface modifications."
Dr Jamie Ferguson of OUI adds: "It's great to be working with Nathan and his colleagues at ANB Sensors. They really understand the development of electrochemical sensors and have a great appreciation of their customers' requirements. We are looking forward to hearing about ANB's success in the market."
Scientific Glassblower Terri Adams featured in Nature
Scientific Glassblower Terri Adams, who is based in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the Department of Chemistry, talks about her work and career in an interview for the journal Nature.
Highlighted in Science and in Nature Chemistry Reviews
Recent work from the Burton and Paton groups has been highlighted in Science and in Nature Chemistry Reviews. This work involved the characterisation of complex tricyclic oxonium ions, proposed intermediates in natural product biosynthesis, and their conversion into numerous halogenated natural products. moreâ€¦
ODD spin-out receives over £2 million to take its drug discovery programme to the next level
Oxford Drug Design wins UK-China AMR grant and boosts funding with investment from the
Oxford Drug Design Limited (ODD), a biotechnology company with a
proprietary computational and machine learning platform, has raised a combined £2.2M in funding
from the Angel CoFund (ACF), o2h Ventures and other new investors, and grant funding from the UK
Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)'s UK-China research competition. This brings the
firm's total amount of grant and equity funding raised in 2019 to over £9M.
Chemistry Periodic Magazine 2019 Edition
A new edition of Periodic, the Department of Chemistry's annual magazine, has now been published online. The issue includes: News & Achievements, Remembering Professor Sir John
Rowlinson, New Research, Professor Charlotte Williams, Making it Happen â€¢ Transparent, Recyclable,
Low-Energy Food Packaging, Oxford HighQ, A New Centre for Doctoral Training, Innovations in Teaching, Sharing the Joys of Chemistry, Letters from Alumni, Working with Industry, Using Virtual Reality to Explain Chemistry and Celebrating a Century of Student Research.
Pfizer-sponsored Symposium Poster Prizes
Many congratulations to Antoine De Gombert (Michael Willis group), Lorel Scriven (Harry Anderson group), Pablo Martin-Baniandres (Hagan Bayley group) and Pernille Bols (Harry Anderson group) for winning poster prizes at the Pfizer-sponsored Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology Symposium on 31st October 2019. The winners are pictured here with judges, Dr David Blakemore (Pfizer), Dr Anna Barnard (Imperial College London), Prof Alan Spivey (Imperial College London), and Ian Moses (Pfizer).
Highlighted paper in Nature Catalysis
Collaborative work between the O'Hare and Tsang groups (University of Oxford) and Prof. Jun Li's group (Tsinghua University) has just been published in Nature Catalysis. This work shows that molecular dinitrogen can be used to reduce the activation energy for catalytic hydrodeoxygenation, transforming biomass into fuel in a sustainable way.
Poster prize for Ysobel Baker
Ysobel Baker (Brown group) has won a poster prize at the Oligonucleotide Therapeutic Society meeting in Munich (October 2019) for her work on backbone-modified locked nucleic acids for therapeutic applications. Yssy is funded by a BBSRC grant (Follow-on-Funding).
Professor Sir Christopher Dobson
Members of the Department were saddened to learn of the death of Sir Christopher Dobson on September 8th. He died peacefully at the Royal Marsden Hospital, surrounded by his family.
As an undergraduate, DPhil student and research fellow, and later lecturer, reader and professor, Chris spent more than 30 years in the Department of Chemistry. It was here that he first began his groundbreaking research into protein aggregation and its role in Alzheimer's disease.
Professor Dame Carol Robinson said: "Beyond his research Chris was an inspirational mentor who transformed the lives of many around him, myself included."
Reaxys PhD Prize 2019
Dr Yujia Qing from the Bayley research group, University of Oxford, is one of the three winners of the Reaxys PhD Prize 2019! Selected from this year's 45 finalists, the 3 winners were awarded on Friday October 4 during the Reaxys Prize Symposium in Amsterdam.
Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2019
John Goodenough and his group pioneered the development of lithium transition metal oxide battery cathode materials in Oxford; without this work, and that of his co-recipients the rechargeable lithium-ion battery (and arguably the modern connected world) would not exist. His decade in charge of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford (1976-1986) created a field of research that continues to thrive here in Oxford. Prof. Goodenough is further distinguished by making notable contributions to scientific knowledge in every decade since the 1950s, crossing disciplines and defining new ones. Into his 90's he continues to be active in the development of compounds for battery anodes and cathodes.
Photo Credit - University of Texas.
Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2019
Stanley Whittingham, currently at Binghamton University (SUNY), has been awarded a share of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work carried out at Exxon in the 1970s exploring the possibility of using lithium titanium sulphide as the cathode in a rechargeable battery system making use of reversible intercalation chemistry. This paved the way for the future discovery of the high voltage LiCoO2 cathode by Goodenough, which was later integrated into a commercial full battery with the development of the anode system by the third co-recipient Akira Yoshino. Whittingham was an undergraduate in Chemistry at New College, Oxford in the 1960s and obtained his D.Phil. in Inorganic Chemistry with Peter Dickens.
On the cover of Journal of Computational Chemistry
Collaborative work between Jonathan Doye and Ard Louis (Physics) and groups in Rome, Trieste, Venice, Arizona State and Tempe has featured on the front cover of the 5 November issue of the Journal of Computational Chemistry. The paper introduces the tacoxDNA webserver and standalone software tools that further facilitate the inter-operability of DNA nanotechnology computer-aided design tools and modelling at different levels of spatial resolution. In particular, these tools will make it easier to use oxDNA, a coarse-grained model of DNA developed into Oxford, to study large DNA nanostructures, such as DNA origami.
On the Cover of RSC ChemComm
The paper describes the optimisation of fluorescent oligonucleotide substrates for the DNA repair protein, XPF-ERCC1. The protein, which cuts DNA to remove damaged nucleic acid bases, has been found to be upregulated in cancers resistant to vital DNA crosslinking chemotherapeutics, such as Cisplatin. The research aims to accelerate inhibitor discovery for XPF-ERCC1 which is currently an untapped drug target.
The work was carried out in Tom Brown's Chemistry lab, as well as Peter McHugh's lab at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, and Neil McDonald's lab at the Francis Crick Institute. The collaboration was done through the Oxford-GSK-Crick Chemical Biology DTC.
The cover illustration was designed and created by Dr Karl Harrison.
Prelog Medal for Professor Veronique Gouverneur
Professor Veronique Gouverneur has been awarded the Prelog Lecture for 2019 and medal. The yearly held Prelog Lecture is organized by the ETH Zurich Laboratory of Organic Chemistry. The Prelog Lecture was established 1986, in order to honour the Nobel Prize (1975) winning Professor Vladimir Prelog for his extraordinary merits for the science and the industry in Switzerland.
On the cover of Science
A paper from Oxford Chemistry and IBM Zurich, on the imaging C18 rings, is featured on the cover of Science, 20 September 2019.
Alexei Likhtman Prize
James Hallett (PDRA in the Perkin group) was awarded the Alexei Likhtman Prize for best poster at the 4th Edwards Soft Matter Symposium, hosted annually at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, UK.
Nature Communications Editors' Highlights
A recent chemical compass paper in Nature Communications by Christian Kerpal and Sabine Richert from the Timmel, Hore, Mackenzie collaboration has been picked up as an editor's highlight.
New work in Angewandte Chemie
A new paper by DFG Fellow Dr Bertold Rasche and researchers from the Compton and Clarke groups in cooperation with the DIAMOND synchrotron has been published as a VIP Communication in Angewandte Chemie. The paper reports the precise, post-synthetic electrochemical control of the composition of an iron-based superconductor, with simultaneous tracking of the crystal structure by means of in-situ synchrotron X-ray diffraction. While the superconductivity is shown to be independent of the compositional changes in contrast to earlier reports, further in-situ experiments reveal how minor traces of oxygen destroy the superconducting properties. The latter process can be reversed electrochemically. The work demonstrates the exquisite control afforded by electrochemistry in comparison to classical approaches to chemical synthesis.
On the Cover of RSC ChemComm
Research from Jürgen Brem, Chris Schofield and colleagues highlighted on the latest cover of Chemical Communications. The group's work, highly regarded by reviewers and editors, identified cysteine-targeting reagents as leads for L,D-transpeptidase inhibitors for the development of antibiotics against tuberculosis. Work done in collaboration with GSK Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation.
Hot Article In Angewandte Chemie
The work of Ruiyang Mao and Lifu Chen, in collaboration with Professor Lidong Shao (Shanghai), has been published as a hot article entitled "Electron Transfer to Decorated Graphene Oxide Particles" in the prestigious Angewandte Chemie journal. See https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201907393. The paper notes that Graphene oxides (GOs) are popular catalyst supports for precious metals in nanoparticle form and investigates the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) and the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) on individual GO platelets decorated with Pd nanoparticles (Pd/GOs). The results reveal that the catalytic activity is confined to the zone physically close to the point of electrical contact between platelet and electrode with just a fraction of the platelet active. The work has been highlighted in Nature Reviews Materials.
Poster Prize for Rachel Sim
Rachel Sim, an Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)-funded DPhil student in the AJR group, was awarded the penultimate year poster prize at the chemical biology conference ChemBiOx 2019, in Oxford. Rachel presented her work on developing affinity and fluorescent probes to elucidate the mechanism of small molecule modulators of neurogenesis.
Jack Cox Plate Winners 2019
The chemistry department has been taking part in the University inter-departmental cricket tournament - the Jack Cox Plate. The team (consisting of DPhil students and Professors) won the competition, beating Materials in the final by 7 wickets.
Science paper on imaging C18
Cyclocarbon has been synthesised on bilayer NaCl on Cu(111) at 5 K, and characterised by atomic force microscopy, revealing its polyynic structure. This is the first time that a cyclocarbon has been studied in a condensed phase or structurally characterised. The work is part of a collaboration between Harry Anderson's group in Oxford and Leo Gross at IBM Zurich, Switzerland.
Engineering new signalling networks to produce crops that need less fertiliser
An interdisciplinary research collaboration between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge has engineered a novel synthetic plant-microbe signalling pathway that could provide the foundation for transferring nitrogen fixation to cereals.
Published in Nature Communications today, the team of plant scientists, microbiologists and chemists used synthetic biology techniques to design and then engineer a molecular dialogue between plants and the bacteria surrounding their roots in a zone called the rhizosphere. This synthetic signalling system could be a vital step towards successfully engineering nitrogen-fixing symbiosis in non-legume crops like wheat and maize.
Further work in the Poole, Oldroyd and Conway laboratories will focus on how plants can control key processes in root bacteria such as nitrogen fixation, phosphate solubilisation and plant growth promotion. This opens up the world of the bacterial microbiome and its diverse metabolism to control by plants and in particular the cereals. It is likely to be a key component in attempts to engineer nitrogen fixation into cereals.
Poster prizes for Michael Jirasek, Lorel Scriven and Henrik Gotfredsen.
Three members of Harry Anderson's group won poster prizes at the International Symposium on Novel Aromatic Compounds, 21-26 July 2019, Sapporo, Japan. Congratulations to Michael Jirasek, Lorel Scriven and Henrik Gotfredsen.
Sir Rex Richards Hon FBA FRS 1922-2019
We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Professor Sir Rex Richards, who died peacefully at his home on July 15th at the age of 96. Sir Rex was Dr Lee's Professor of Chemistry from 1964 to 1969, when he became Warden of Merton College. He would go on to serve as Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1977 to 1981.
One of the most distinguished chemists of his generation, Sir Rex pioneered the early use of NMR and its application to the determination of unknown molecular structures. He became a leading figure in the design and development of NMR equipment and his contributions to the advancement of the technique stimulated other research across a wide range of scientific disciplines.
Sir Rex's outstanding work earned him numerous awards and distinctions, including a knighthood in 1977, honorary degrees from thirteen universities, the Davy Medal and Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the Corday-Morgan Medal of the Chemical Society, the President's Medal of the Society of Chemical Industry and the Medal of Honour of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms UniversitÃ¤t, Bonn. The Rex Richards building in the University Science Area is named in his honour.
Dr Francis Rossotti
It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Dr Francis Rossotti, former University Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, and Fellow and Tutor in Inorganic Chemistry at St Edmund Hall. Dr Rossotti died on July 15th, aged 92. He is survived by his wife Hazel (who was a tutor and Fellow in Chemistry at St. Anne's College) and their two children. Dr Rossotti's family will hold a memorial service after the summer which friends and colleagues are welcome to attend.
Photograph of Dr Rossotti courtesy of St Edmund Hall.
Using Virtual Reality to explain Chemistry
Rhoslyn Roebuck Williams and Izzy Creed from the Theory and Modelling in Chemical Systems (TMCS) Centre for Doctoral Training went to The Royal Society alongside students from Bristol and Southampton to use Virtual reality (VR) to explain anti-biotic resistance to members of the general public on Tuesday the 2nd July.
Other students from TMCS (Harry Stroud, Izzy Creed, Jillisa Thompson and Tristan Johnston-wood) have also used the new VR kit to explain the importance of Theoretical Chemistry to prospective undergraduates in this years open day.
Poster prize for Lisa Thompson
Dr Lisa Thompson, postdoctoral researcher in the Vincent group, has won a prize for her poster on H2-driven biocatalysis in flow at the 14th International Symposium on Biocatalysis and Biotransformations (BioTrans 2019), in Groningen, The Netherlands. The BioTrans symposium showcased recent advances in biocatalysis research, covering various cutting edge topics in the field, and Lisa's prize-winning poster was one of only four selected from over 500 entries.
Stuart Conway becomes President of the RSC Organic Division
Professor Stuart Conway began his presidency of the Royal Society of Chemistry's Organic Division on July 10th. The RSC's Organic Division, which has 8700 members across education and industry, aims to encourage and promote advances in organic chemistry and works with other RSC Divisions to encourage the development of new and emerging areas of science.
Stuart is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the EP Abraham Cephalosporin Fellow in Organic Chemistry at St Hugh's College. His research interests focus on the use of organic chemistry to solve biological problems. He has particular interests in developing molecular tools to study epigenetic phenomena, and in developing methods to target and image hypoxia. The Conway group's research has been recognised by the award of the 2012 EFMC Prize for a Young Medicinal Chemist in Academia, and the 2016 Lectureship from the Biological and Medicinal Chemistry Sector of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Stuart's election as President of the Organic Division makes it a hat-trick for Oxford Chemistry at the RSC, as Professor Dame Carol Robinson is its current President, and Professor Claire Vallance is President of the Faraday Division.
Flashman group work contributes to study published in Science revealing conserved oxygen-sensing mechanism in plants and humans
A collaborative project between the Ratcliffe group (NDM, Oxford), Licausi group (PlantLab, SSSUP, Pisa) and the Flashman group (Chemistry, Oxford) has revealed that an N-terminal cysteine dioxygenase in humans acts to control the stability of target proteins in an oxygen-sensitive manner. This mechanism is identical to oxygen-sensing cysteine dioxygenases in plants, which control plant responses to low oxygen (hypoxic) events such as flooding. The work broadens our understanding of cellular responses to hypoxia, a feature common to many disease states. Masson N et al (2019) Science 365:65-69. Picture by Mikel Lavilla and Beatrice Giuntoli.
Institute of Physics Isaac Newton Medal and Prize
Professor Sir Michael Pepper FRS, the physicist whose fundamental work has led to applied topics such as the development of a new way of detecting skin cancers, has been awarded the Institute of Physics Isaac Newton Medal and Prize - given for world-leading contributions to physics.
Sir Michael, Visiting Professor at Oxford, Emeritus Professor Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge and Pender Chair on Nanoelectronics at University College London, has been awarded the IOP's most prestigious medal for the creation of the field of semiconductor nanoelectronics and discovery of new quantum phenomena.
Prizes for poster and talk
At the recent RSC ESR group conference in Glasgow, CAESR students Ben Tucker and Gabriel Moise won the International EPR society poster prize and the prize for the best student flash talk, respectively.