Department of Chemistry

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Name: Dr Przemyslaw Gawel

Group: Harry Anderson

Twitter: @GawelPrzemyslaw

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Biography

My chemistry journey started at secondary school in Katowice, Poland, where a great teacher, Dr. B. Paściak, and my parents seeded a passion for chemistry and science in me. I continued extracurricular activities in chemistry throughout high school and had some successes in national chemistry competitions. Then, because I was broadly interested in sciences (in addition to chemistry), I opted for Interdepartmental Individual Studies in the College of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Warsaw, where I gained degrees in chemistry and biotechnology. This gave me a unique opportunity to conduct research projects in both the chemistry and biology departments. During my undergraduate studies, I undertook four short research visits in the group of Prof. H. Hopf in Braunschweig, Germany, where I was synthesizing unusual cyclophanes designed by Prof. H. Dodziuk (IChF PAN). My interest in carbon-rich materials started there and continues now. I moved to Switzerland to pursue my doctoral studies in the group of Prof. François Diederich at ETH Zürich. During my PhD, I developed synthetic routes towards functional cumulene- and acene-based molecular materials while studying their physicochemical properties. Working in such a renowned group enabled me to acquire a comprehensive set of skills essential to my career in academia. After completing my PhD, I moved to Oxford as a Swiss National Science Foundation Postdoc.Mobility Fellow to study new carbon allotropes in the group of Prof. Harry L. Anderson.

Current research

Graphite and diamond are the most stable and widespread allotropes of carbon. They are also of the highest technological importance, with diamond being the hardest known natural material and graphite exhibiting high conductivity. During the last 25 years, the discovery of new carbon allotropes has generated new technologies and had far-reaching implications for research in chemistry and physics. All these new forms of carbon are based on trigonal (sp2) bonding, and no allotropes built exclusively of linear (sp) carbon have ever been isolated. Carbyne, the elusive carbon allotrope built exclusively of sp-hybridized atoms, has been predicted to display useful conductive and non-linear optical properties as well as extraordinary tensile strength. Cyclic polyacetylenes, namely cyclo[n]carbons, represent carbyne on a molecular level. They are desirable model systems to confirm the often contradictory theoretical predictions of the structure and properties of sp-carbon allotropes.

Recent remarkable developments in supramolecular chemistry gives access to very complicated interlocked structures. Advances in scanning probe microscopy methods allow for generation, manipulation, and characterization of molecules on surfaces. In my current project, I focus on the synthesis of sp-carbon rich structures protected by incorporation into supramolecular structures, such as rotaxanes (rings locked onto dumbbell-shaped molecules) and catenanes (interlocked rings). Additionally, in collaboration with a team from IBM Zurich, we are preparing single molecules of carbon-rich structures on a surface using atom manipulation and imaging them with scanning probe microscopy.

A little bit extra

Being a chemist is not only my profession but also my passion. I was always fascinated by the unlimited possibilities of chemistry and natural sciences and so decided to pursue my career in research. Outside of the laboratory, I am a proud father and husband. Additionally, I am a passionate sailor and traveller. I organised and participated in two motorbike expeditions, and navigating my way around the Black Sea and to Mongolia.