Name: Dr Jamie Leitch
Group: Darren Dixon
I grew up near beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon and went to a grammar school in a small local town called Alcester. Here I developed a love for maths, science and languages, and with no exaggeration, decided to take chemistry A-level by a coin toss. But it was at this point that organic chemistry really came into its own and took me in completely. I recently found my covering letter for my application to university and was utterly taken aback with how impassioned (and cringe-worthy) I was talking about the field I now call my own.
I pursued an MChem Chemistry for Drug Discovery at the University of Bath where I also had the privilege of undertaking an ERASMUS year at the University of Bordeaux. Here I worked on the synthesis of functionalised nanoparticles for drug delivery and biochip applications. I then returned to Bath for a masters’ project on transition metal-catalysed antibiotic synthesis. I decided to remain in Bath for my postgraduate training and completed my PhD in 2017 with a thesis titled “Site Selective Catalytic C-H Functionalization” under the supervision of Professor Chris Frost in partnership with Syngenta. There, I specialised in C-H functionalisation, radical chemistry and organometallic synthesis. I then took up my current role as a Leverhulme Trust fellow at the University of Oxford, working with Professor Darren Dixon on photoredox catalysis.
It’s hard to identify a specific person who has had the biggest impact on me in science. From an early age, I would actually say it was Richard Hammond, presenter of Brainiac: Science Abuse (a British TV programme), who told me science really could be as out there and fun as you wanted it to be.
I came to Oxford as there are incredible academics with wide-ranging research interests with global reputations, and still to this day the university remains a hive of academic expression and freedom.
My current research focuses on the use of light-mediated chemistry (photochemistry) as a tool to create new carbon-carbon bonds. By shining lights on reactions we can unlock new reactivity, not seen by general heating of a reaction. Atoms often find stability in pairing electrons in chemical bonds and in lone pairs. Photochemistry has become a great tool in creating single electron intermediates, which in turn are incredibly reactive. This reactivity can be tamed to allow efficient synthetic methods.
My work utilises this concept in the upgrading of small flat (sp2 rich) molecules into complex 3D (sp3 rich) structures My main focus is on nitrogen-containing compounds and especially how imines (C=N) can be transformed into branched amines, tetrahydroquinolines, and polycyclic frameworks.
The compounds I synthesise and the synthetic methods I develop could be applied to create compounds with more drug-like properties and/or act as key access points in the construction of larger, more complex chemical architectures, such as natural products.
A little bit extra
Outside of chemistry I am a keen sports fan and well-seasoned armchair supporter especially of rugby and football. I also enjoy playing 7-a-side football when I can. I also thoroughly enjoy being a coffee and beer snob, including brewing my own beer.
My future plans include establishing myself as a researcher in organic chemistry and a leader within my team. I also enjoy travelling - having recently done a tour of Western America - and I hope to explore Asia in the coming years.