Department of Chemistry

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Name: Dr Hamish Hepburn
Twitter handle: @Allylate
Group: Tim Donohoe


I was born in North East Fife in Scotland and attended my local school in St. Andrews. I was fortunate to grow up across the road from my grandfather who was a physicist and his influence inspired me from a young age and initiated my interest in science. Although chemistry was not my best subject at school, I was attracted by its hands-on experimental nature and decided to do a Chemistry degree at Edinburgh University.  During my degree I did year-long industrial placement with Astrazeneca, which enabled me to gain real-life experience of the drug discovery process and pharmaceutical industry. I returned to Edinburgh to complete my masters project under the supervision of Professor Hon Wai Lam and decided to stay in Edinburgh to complete a PhD in the field of asymmetric rhodium catalysis.

Having spent my whole career in Scotland and in the field of transition-metal catalysis, I was keen to move abroad for postdoctoral studies, and Hon recommended that I chose a new area of study in order to broaden my skills and knowledge.  With this in mind, I began a Royal Society of Chemistry fellowship in the group of Professor Paolo Melchiorre at the Institut Català d’Investigació Química (ICIQ) in Tarragona, Spain to undertake research in the field of asymmetric organocatalytic photochemistry. The opportunity to work in a new country with a different culture was a great opportunity for me to grow, both professionally and personally as I learned Spanish and socialised with colleagues from many different countries.  After two and a half enjoyable years in Spain, I decided to return to the UK, especially as I was due to get married and wished to live with my wife.

This led me to Oxford, which is a well-respected centre of organic chemistry research. I first started as an EPSRC-funded postdoctoral researcher in the group of Professor Timothy J. Donohoe, returning to transition metal catalysis, before securing a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship to continue in the Donohoe group.

I have been fortunate to work for and with many talented chemists, all of whom have inspired and taught me in their own unique ways.  It would be difficult to name who has made the biggest impact as they have all had important influences.

Current research

My current research involves using catalytic amounts of metals to initiate the formation of new carbon-carbon bonds, these types of reactions underpin a range of important chemical areas such as the preparation of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and materials. In particular, my investigations are focussed on taking small “flat” molecules that feature rings consisting of carbon and nitrogen, and converting them into three-dimensional structures that have the potential to be the underlying architecture for new drug molecules.    

A little bit extra

Outside of synthetic organic chemistry, I am passionate about sports, both playing, watching, and following the Scottish national football and rugby teams and the New England Patriots (NFL). I am a huge fan of dogs, particularly spaniels, and can’t wait until the day where I have a more stable work situation that will allow us to bring home our first dog. I also enjoy travel and experiencing new cultures and sights. 

My future plans include finding an opportunity to undertake my own independent research, and for my wife and I to visit all 50 states of the USA (currently on 15 with a trip to visit 7 more booked for 2019).