Undergraduate study

We wanted to enhance your virtual open day experience with a "deep-dive" into the Chemistry department, giving you the opportunity to get interactive with molecular models and find out about the wide-ranging research that happens at Loughborough!

Interactive models of molecules studied at Loughborough

A variety of molecules are synthesised at Loughborough's Chemistry department to push the scientific frontiers in the areas of Energy, Catalysis, and Functional Molecules. Take a closer look at these molecules using the interactive 3D models supplied.

Light sources

Energy efficient light sources and displays are an important component of a sustainable future. The delayed fluorescence phenomenon provides a potential route toward removing a fundamental physical bottleneck in these technologies, which derives from the quantum mechanical spin of the electron. Delayed fluorescence requires molecules with carefully tuned energy levels deriving from states of different spin multiplicities. A new benzodithiophenedione derivative was synthesised with this goal in mind, studied computationally, and described in a recent publication. Dr I. A. Wright / Dr F. Plasser

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Solar energy

Solar energy is one of the main renewable energy sources currently being researched, with commercial thin film solar cells currently made of CdTe or CuIn1-xGaxSe2 (CIGS) absorbers. However, whilst these materials make up the majority of the thin film commercial market, these solar cells have various problems relating to materials cost, and toxicity of constituent elements. Kesterite (Cu2ZnSn(S,Se)4) solar cells are becoming increasingly popular due to their tuneable band gap, relative affordability of the constituent elements, and the ability to produce high efficiency devices from solution processes. A new amine-thiol solvent system has been developed, which has low toxicity, is user-friendly and is able to readily dissolve all kesterite constituent elements, including metals and their oxides. The dissolution process and the structures of the prevalent metal complexes formed were investigated with the aid of spectroscopic methods, such as electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) and infrared multiple photon dissociation (IRMPD). Prof. A. Malkov / Dr J. Bowers

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Making molecules which are greater than the sum of their parts

This work concerns the synthesis of new molecules with applications in energy technologies such as solar cells, displays and sensors. Dr I. A. Wright

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Molecular sensors

Peroxynitrite is a short-lived reactive oxygen species, which has attracted much attention because it can cause serious damage to living systems. It is generated through the spontaneous reaction of nitric oxide (NO) and superoxide radical. Elevated levels of peroxynitrite contribute to a series of human diseases including multiple sclerosis, stroke, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. To fully understand the roles of peroxynitrite in these diseases, improved methods for detecting this short-lived molecule are needed. Researchers at Loughborough University have designed and synthesised a unique luminescence probe that reacts specifically with peroxynitrite. The probe emits red light from living cells, and the light switches off when peroxynitrite levels rise too high. Our probe provides a novel strategy for imaging peroxynitrite in living cells, enabling a better understanding of its roles in biology and disease. This research featured in the 2020 Chemical Science HOT Article Collection. Dr S. Butler

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Transition metal complexes

The group of Dr M. B. Smith is interested in transition metal complexes. The attached model shows a ligand that binds to precious metals, often found in catalytic car converters, based on Ru, Rh, Pd and Pt.

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Conducting Aromatic Heterocycles

The group of Dr G.W. Weaver carries out research into heterocyclic chemistry. The compound shown, benzo[bis]benzothiophenes, are conjugated pentacyclic aromatic heterocycles containing sulfur, which are used in organoelectronic devices such as field effect transistors. At Loughborough we prepared examples of these compounds with alkyl substituents to improve solubility and allow easier processing. When Dr Mark Elsegood solved the crystal structures, we discovered that the orientation of the side chain relative to the plane of the aromatic core depended on the linking atom. Compounds with an oxygen linker atom had the side chains extended nearly in the same plane as the core, while the sulfur linked compounds existed in the solid state with the alkyl chains pointing sharply away from the plane of the aromatic core. NMR spectroscopy carried out by Dr Mark Edgar showed the chains were mobile for the molecules in solution in both cases.

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Our research

At Loughborough the academic staff who teach you are also engaged in wide-ranging research that has real-world impact. Explore the dynamic and innovative research going on within the Department of Chemistry today!

RECOVER - aiding the fight against crime

Dr Paul Kelly’s research group looks at a range of aspects of forensic science, covering improvised explosive detection, the identification of bodily fluids at crime scenes, countering metal theft (e.g. lead from churches) and new methods for fingerprint development. All of these have formed part of student projects and indeed many have stemmed from initial work with students who then carried it on during a PhD here. The following link describes a commercialised device for print development (e.g. from fired ammunition casings) that came from our work:

Carbon dioxide utilisation

Current and increasing pressures on fossil fuel resources mean that the chemical industries must find alternative raw materials to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-based feedstocks. Thus the development of new manufacturing processes for chemical syntheses from renewable resources is a grand challenge that should be a priority for all major economies.

Carbon dioxide is one such resource, it is overtly abundant, cheap and non-toxic when compared to fossil fuel based single carbon building blocks that are used in chemicals industries (e.g. phosgene). Carbon dioxide has been used in industry for for 50-100 years. For example, in the manufacture of urea, salicylic acid (used to make Aspirin), and cyclic carbonates (used as electrolytes in Li-on batteries). However, due to carbon dioxides relative inertness these processes are significantly energy demanding with reactions taking place at high temperatures and pressures.

In this project we utilise synthetic electrochemistry to activate the carbon dioxide at atmospheric pressure and ambient temperature to trigger a carbon-carbon bond forming process. Thus the aim of this project was to establish a new way to directly make compounds containing carboxylic acids from low value compounds such as alkenes. This avoids the use of toxic, flammable carbon monoxide that is the current reagent of choice for this purpose. Molecules containing carboxylic acids are found in a wide variety of natural products and biologically active drug compounds (for example, the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen). The construction of such compounds in a selective fashion, from low value materials remains a long-standing challenge. In particular, sustainable methods for selective carboxylic acid incorporation are underdeveloped.

You can read an interview with Dr Buckley here and a viewpoint on our work here.

Anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oils

The role of fish oil derived fatty acids and natural products in the inflammatory response. Our group at Loughborough have been examining the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oils and their oxidative metabolites resolvin E1 (figure 1(a)). These metabolites have been shown to be beneficial in the resolution of the inflammatory response and therefore have potential in treating conditions that are linked to chronic inflammation (e.g. asthma, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, COPD, etc.). A related group of metabolites is the Furan Fatty Acids (FFAs) and the Urofuran acids. The role that FFAs play in regulating free radicals within biological systems has yet elucidated, even though significant anecdotal evidence exists of their health benefits. In response, we have developed efficient synthetic methods to several of the FFAs and recently, we established a synthesis of CeDFP, whose structure is related to the known human metabolites CMF and CMPentylF, both of which are implicated in type 2-diabetes and renal failure.

Chemical X-ray crystallography

Dr. Elsegood works in the area of chemical X-ray crystallography. He collaborates with the synthetic chemists within the department and with leading researchers in the UK and worldwide. If they can grow a crystal of their new material, Dr. Elsegood will collect diffraction data, solve and refine the crystal structure, generate some pretty pictures of the molecule and/or extended structure, analyse the results, and contribute to the publication process. Part D project students are trained in these skills and frequently contribute to publications, getting their names on papers. Data are collected either in-house using the Department’s own diffractometer, at national facilities, or high brilliance synchrotron facilities like the ALS in California.


Value-added materials from fossil fuels and industrial wastes

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industrial activities are of major global concern, especially contributions from burning natural gas in industry, domestic and transport sectors. Previously, we have shown that industrial waste gas mixtures can be converted to grow value added carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Whilst this work is still progressing, now Professor Upul Wijayantha and his group have demonstrated that natural gas can be converted to Hydrogen on very low-cost catalysts and carbon can be trapped as CNTs. Given that CNTs is valuable commodity in electronics, smart & advanced composite materials, air and water purifications, food processing etc., this research contributes to many sectors low-carbon energy, health, security, water quality, air-quality etc. and students trained in research projects in this area will have promising career opportunities in existing and emerging industry.